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 Leslie Campbell, customer team leader, Welch’s.
Tell me a little bit about you and what do you like to do with your time away from the office.
I am a wife and mother of three amazing teenagers: twin girls who are 15 and my son, 13. We have two rescue dogs and reside in Little Canada, Minnesota. Our family loves to spend time at our cabin in northern Wisconsin during the summer. I love to watch and support my kids in all their activities: theater, swimming, hockey, baseball and skiing.
Please provide a brief description of your employer.
Welch Foods Inc. is an American company headquartered in Concord, Massachusetts. It has been owned by the National Grape Cooperative Association, a co-op of about 800 grape growers, since 1956. Welch’s is particularly known for its grape juices, jams and jellies made from dark Concord grapes and its white Niagara grape juice. They put know-how, passion and persistence into growing the grapes that make Welch’s products taste so uniquely delicious.
What is your role at Welch Foods?
My role is customer team leader in the West sales division calling on Target, Walgreens, Hy-Vee and Fareway. I am responsible for driving profitable sales for these customers in the spreads, juice and sparkling juice categories.
What was your career path to this position?
I have been in the CPG industry for more than 19 years. I started my career with Pillsbury in accounts receivable, working closely with the sales team. I knew I wanted to get into sales when I was in that position; it was just a matter of understanding how to navigate my career. In 2002, General Mills acquired Pillsbury and that opened up an opportunity in the customer service logistics area supporting Walmart. A position opened up a year later in the bakery and foodservice division to help support a project team to align the division’s segments. My title was business analyst and I supported the new trade system and sales website. My experience with the new trade system led to my next position as a trade analyst supporting the foodservice team by making recommendations regarding trade programs. I progressed next to a business planning manager in the in-store bakery team and led a team of four entry-level sales analysts. In this position, I oversaw the volume and trade program for the segment and the bid process for new business. I found a new opportunity two years later at Land O’Lakes as a category manager. In this position, I learned the critical foundational category management skills I still use today. I oversaw the butter, margarine and spreads planograms for Publix, Food Lion and gained the validator role at Target. This position eventually led to my first-ever sales position as customer business manager calling on the Supervalu banners, selling Land O’Lakes butter and deli cheese. Eighteen months later I moved into another selling role calling on alternative channels like Dollar Tree, Costco, Family Dollar and the military accounts. My last role with Land O’Lakes was sales planning in foodservice as a national customer business manager. I was the liaison between marketing and sales to support and deploy the sales plan. I realized I wanted to continue to expand my career and experience in new categories and in 2014, I moved to Danone calling on Jewel, Roundy’s and Hy-Vee as a senior customer business manager selling all Danone yogurt products. In 2017, Danone acquired WhiteWave Foods, and my role expanded to call on all yogurt, creamer, plant-based beverages and organic milk customers for Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) and their members and to oversee a team of five people. I recently left Danone to pursue this new opportunity at Welch’s. I am excited to work for a company where my efforts directly support our farmers.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for workforce and leadership development within the grocery industry?
I believe companies should continue to help develop their middle management employees and ensure they feel supported with a career path and feel continually challenged in their role.
In what ways does Welch’s focus on developing future leadership? Tell me a little more about that.
I am very new to Welch’s and have felt supported by the leadership team from day one. I see the company working very hard to be inclusive, to work cross-functionally and to help educate all employees about the business across all functions.
Do you personally play a role in helping to develop/coach/mentor future leadership in the industry either internally or externally?
I have spoken a few times at the University of Minnesota to classes focused on careers in food about my career path and the companies I have worked for. I also have been a huge supporter of the Network of Executive Women and have encouraged co-workers in every company I have worked for to participate in this great organization. Additionally, I have always helped onboard and supported new co-workers to learn the CPG industry, the business and categories.
Did you utilize or participate in any mentoring/coaching experiences as you developed your career?
I have always utilized mentors throughout my career. It has helped guide my thought process about my career and helped me troubleshoot areas where I needed additional support in my day-to-day responsibilities. I think it is important to have many people you can rely on to be a sounding board and be a support network.
What advice do you have for college students and young professionals looking at the grocery industry as one where they can build a career?
The grocery industry is an exciting place to develop your career. There are so many options, including sales, category, finance, supply chain and marketing. I would advise to really learn different positions and take on different challenges that help you understand the whole perspective of a CPG company. Take on risks and don’t be afraid to move onto something new to continue your career journey and to continue to stay challenged.
What pieces of advice did you receive as you built your career to this point, which you found most helpful?
Pay it forward. Know your value to the company. Be passionate about what you do every day.