The Shelby Report and The Grocery Group together present this series, People to Watch, to focus on current and future leadership in the grocery industry. In this installment, Grocery Group Founder and CEO Cindy Sorensen interviews Sydney Wicklacz, associate customer category manager with the Kraft Heinz Co.
I first met Sydney when she was a student in the food sales class I taught in the Applied Economics Department at the University of Minnesota. I asked her to share her journey into the grocery industry and to provide insight on how this industry can continue to attract top talent to build leadership and sustainability in a crowded competitive market.
Tell me a little bit about you and what do you like to do with your time away from the office?
I am a young professional new to living in the lovely city of Seattle, Washington. I have spent much of my time recently exploring the city’s vibrant food scene and the many National Parks within this region. Some of my hobbies include cycling, cooking, hiking, camping and sailing.
Please provide a brief description of Kraft Heinz.
For more than 150 years, we have produced some of the world’s most beloved products at Kraft Heinz Co. We are one of the largest global food and beverage companies in the world and our portfolio is a diverse mix of iconic and emerging brands. We are a globally trusted producer of delicious foods providing high quality, great taste and nutrition for all eating occasions whether at home, in restaurants or on the go.
What is your role at Kraft Heinz? What are your responsibilities?
I was recently promoted to the role of associate customer category manager on the Amazon Core and Pantry team. My primary responsibility is to work cross-functionally with our supply chain team to construct, audit and execute our forecasting for the entire Kraft Heinz portfolio within the Amazon Core and Amazon Pantry markets.
This is your first professional position in the grocery industry, which you began immediately upon graduation from the University of Minnesota. How did you decide on the grocery industry as a place to build a career?
No matter where you live or what language you speak, there is always one thing consistent across cultures – food. Food is a fantastic tool to unite, inspire and spread joy. These attributes place the grocery industry in the perfect position to bring joy and purpose to its consumers and employees. This positioning is the main reason I chose the grocery industry as a place to build a career.
What was the educational path that prepared you for an entry-level position in the grocery industry?
My degree in agriculture and food business management combined courses in applied economics and business to sculpt the perfect degree for the food industry. In addition, my coursework and internship abroad in Chiang Mai, Thailand, left a lasting impact on me.
While in Chiang Mai, I was introduced to every step of the food supply chain – from crop to consumer. This hands-on experience provided insight into the world of food I would not have otherwise seen.
What opportunities did you participate in while in college that exposed you to the grocery industry? Did you have internships? What would you recommend for students today to prepare themselves for a career in the grocery industry?
My focus in college was to gain real-life experience, so I was driven to find internship opportunities early on in my college career. I wanted to gain a wide breadth of experience – and I did.
Working everywhere from a boutique waffle stand in South Minneapolis, Minnesota, to a grassroots coffee company in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I gained experience that I could not have obtained in my coursework. This positioned me with unique hiring attributes.
For students looking to prepare for the grocery industry today, I would recommend taking all the opportunities you can. That may mean staying late to talk to your professor or working a unique but valuable internship. It also could be as simple as raising your hand more often in class. You are at the helm of your own learning and growth, see as much as you can see.
Building the future leadership of the grocery industry is of high priority to its stakeholders, which includes retailers, wholesalers, vendors and service suppliers. How can the grocery industry best communicate with college students about the career opportunities in the industry? What should the industry be doing to recruit talent at the college level?
The best thing to do when recruiting college-level talent is to show up and support major career landmarks at the universities you are seeking to recruit from. There is no better way to meet and guide students to your organization than face-to-face communication.
Obviously, this is more difficult in the time of COVID-19, but there are still ways to show up virtually that can leave an impact. Additionally, it is important not to limit your search pools. There is top-tier talent interested in your company from diverse backgrounds – embrace it.
What do you see as the greatest opportunities for workforce and leadership development within the grocery industry?
The best opportunity for the development starts at the beginning. Allowing employees time to learn and adapt to their new role pays dividends down the line.
When I started my career at Kraft Heinz, my main objective as a business development trainee was to learn. This set me up for success and granted invaluable insight into the industry I was joining.
In what ways does Kraft Heinz focus on developing future leadership? Tell me a little more about that.
Kraft Heinz focuses on developing leadership through a variety of programs and educational opportunities throughout one’s career. Kraft Heinz has a trainee program that focuses on developing future leaders at the start of their careers, just out of undergrad.
As employees grow within the company, so do the educational opportunities. Kraft Heinz offers self-paced virtual learning through the Ownerversity platform, advanced leader and manager courses, as well as a leadership master’s program.
What advice do you have for college students?
You learn so much while in college – own it. Your perspective and experiences are valid and the skills you have learned thus far are tangible. Know your worth and be confident in your knowledge.
What advice did you receive that you found most helpful?
The best advice that I have received is to never present a limitation without a solution. This not only lets you influence the conversation but also leverages your expertise to consult on the issue at hand.
What else would you like the readers to know about you, your employer and/or other relevant industry information and insights?
As my generation enters the workforce, it is important to note that we are socially aware and alert to the headlines around us. Speak frequently and thoroughly on the topics that affect our lives. This is something that we look for.