The Shelby Report and The Grocery Group have introduced a series entitled People to Watch that focuses on current and future leadership in the grocery industry. In this installment, The Grocery Group Founder and CEO Cindy Sorensen interviews Wendi Archambault, director of sales for Conagra Brands.
Tell me a little bit about you and what you like to do with your time away from the office.
I’m a wife and mother of two active boys, which keeps our lives very full. We feel blessed to live in Colorado and try to spend as much time outdoors as we can. When not spending time with friends and family, I volunteer as an executive co-chair of the Denver Chapter of the Network of Executive Women (NEW). We recently relaunched our chapter and I’m excited to give back to an organization that helped me gain the skills and experiences needed to be successful in my role today.
Please provide a brief description of Conagra.
Conagra Brands is one of North America’s leading branded food companies. With a 100-year history, the company combines a rich heritage of making great food with a sharpened focus on innovation. Conagra’s portfolio features both iconic and emerging brands that offer choices for every occasion. From Hunts Tomatoes and Healthy Choice frozen meals to Udi’s Gluten Free and Gardein plant-based protein, Conagra’s brand portfolio has evolved to meet consumers’ demand for healthy food. As a gluten-free consumer, I feel a lot of personal satisfaction representing brands that consumers trust.
What is your role and what responsibilities do you have at Conagra?
I’m a director of sales and manage our natural branded business in conventional grocery retailers. My talented team works with stores to promote and merchandise items and to provide optimal assortment recommendations to maximize a retailer’s sales and category growth. My day-to-day “to do” list can be summed up with the acronym MAPS: merchandising, assortment, pricing and shelving.
What was your career path to this position?
I was 19 when I started as a cashier at Stop & Shop in New England. The experiences I gained in a variety of roles were the perfect foundation to a successful career in CPG.
Next, I went to work for the local Coca-Cola bottler and my responsibility increased over time with challenging roles such as account manager selling to convenience stores, district sales manager, business development manager selling fountain soda and vending machine programs and then finally as an account executive managing regional and national accounts like BJ’s Wholesale Club and Costco. Hands-on experience taught me how to manage a team and sell consultatively, truly partnering with a retailer to grow their total sales, not just the brands I was selling.
In 2008, I had my first son and took the opportunity to make a change by joining WhiteWave Foods (now Danone) as a regional sales manager. While at WhiteWave, I advanced my career by gaining experience in cross-functional roles within sales and trade marketing. There I had the opportunity to relocate and further develop my analytical, people management and selling skills.
In 2016, I began working for Pinnacle Foods as a director of sales, managing the Boulder Brands portfolio. I am excited to continue learning and growing with Conagra by working for a really great team of senior leaders, and I continue to learn something new every day.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for workforce and leadership development within the grocery industry?
The grocery and retail industries are underrepresented in college curriculum. There are simply not enough opportunities for college students to learn about the grocery industry or CPG in general. I think the biggest opportunity is to find a way to change the perspective on how roles in grocery are perceived and how a young person can make a successful career in CPG.
In what ways does Conagra focus on developing future leadership?
Conagra offers many opportunities for training and personal development. One aspect I feel makes a difference is Conagra’s partnership with NEW. I am excited to work for a company that supports NEW’s mission: “To advance all women, grow business and transform our workplaces through the power of our community.” In our Chicago office, the local NEW ambassador leads “lunch and learn” sessions, where we watch NEW’s featured monthly speakers on various learning and development topics. Conagra is also helping to strengthen our leadership skills by sending 20-plus people to the upcoming NEW Leadership summit conference for two days.
Do you personally play a role in helping to develop/coach/mentor future leadership in the industry either internally or externally?
As the co-chair of the Denver NEW chapter, I’m part of a great team that is building a plan to execute networking and education events across Denver and Boulder. In June, we hosted Regina Huber, transformational leadership consultant. Regina led a workshop that provided strategies to distinguish ourselves, communicate effectively and negotiate successfully. As we look forward with NEW in Denver, we’ll be working together with our business community and local retail and CPG partners to execute impactful learning and development programs while inspiring women to stay and advance.
Did you utilize or participate in any mentoring/coaching experiences as you developed your career?
I feel very fortunate to have had some really great mentors over the years, both internal and external. It’s difficult to narrow it down to one or two experiences for this interview, so I’ll summarize. My mentors helped me identify ways to enhance my strengths, minimize my weaknesses and were able to see things in me that I didn’t even realize were there.
What advice do you have for college students and young professionals looking at the grocery industry as one where they can build a career?
Work hard. Learn from a wide array of experiences. Find a mentor you respect and pay attention. I loved my experience working in a grocery store because it taught me how to merchandise an endcap, how to manage inventory and how to work with others. Some of my favorite mentors were the people with the broadest experiences. They’d share stories because they had things to say and people, like me, to listen. Good and bad, there were always lessons in those experiences and paying attention was always one of the best ways to learn.
What pieces of advice did you receive as you built your career to this point that you found most helpful?
- Have a plan—One piece of advice that has stuck with me is the idea of having a plan for your career and identifying your desired result. Once you have this, you can determine what knowledge and experiences you need to be successful in the role you want. I consider these skills and experiences “tools” that I carry with me in a virtual toolbox.
- Grit—Don’t give up. Early in my career at Coca-Cola I decided I was interested in furthering my career in sales. I didn’t get the first role I applied for because I didn’t have the skills needed. I took that feedback and enrolled in a course at my local community college to get the skills needed. The next time the role I wanted was available, I interviewed and got the job.
What else would you like the readers of The Shelby Report to know about you and/or your employer, or are there other relevant industry information and insights you would like to share?
I want to see the healthy side of grocery grow and I want to grow with it. I believe in this aspect of our industry and as people get more informed and live healthy, outdoor lives they will need more and better food to support them. I see that as an opportunity for me to not just advance but to accomplish something important. Since having children I’ve tried hard to feed them right and I think that’s paid off well with my family and with my own life. That’s why I believe in what I do, and I always want to do it better and to reach more consumers.