Inside the Kraft Heinz team that helps retailers reimagine their shelves

It’s helping retailers grow sales for not only its own products, but entire categories.
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Kraft Heinz

· 5 min read

While you’re likely familiar with the experience of staring at the shelf displays of a grocery store, mulling over the choices amid the many products and brands before you, you may not be aware of the people who help craft—or should we say Kraft—them.

CPG giant Kraft Heinz has an entire team dedicated to working with retailers to workshop their planograms (the plan for the layout of the aisles and shelves) to give better on-shelf visibility not only to its brands like Kraft Mac & Cheese, Heinz Ketchup, Kool-Aid, and Jell-O, but also improve the appearance and performance of entire categories on store shelves.

This customer development team, part of its sales organization, is a relatively new one at Kraft Heinz, built in 2020 “out of the need of just how important category growth can be,” Andy McKeon, head of customer business development, told Retail Brew. After food giants Kraft Foods Group and H. J. Heinz Company merged in 2015 to form Kraft Heinz, there was “a lot of reorganization,” he noted, and category insights and resources were hard to come by. Retail buyers told the company, one that sells some of the most well-known brands in grocery, that it needed Kraft Heinz to advise them on how to present their products and the categories they reside in on the shelf.

“We always describe ourselves to retailers as a team of learn-it-alls, not know-it-alls,” McKeon said. “We are constantly trying to challenge our beliefs [and] our point of views with updated data and perspectives because consumers are always changing.”

Now, the team operates as “category consultants,” McKeon said, using several different avenues to gain some interesting insight into consumer behavior and help retailers shift shelves to boost sales.

Reality check: The majority of Kraft Heinz products are sold in brick-and-mortar grocers at full price, not promotion, McKeon noted, and therefore, in-store displays are crucial for its sales. Kraft Heinz uses several different tools to identify and demonstrate potential changes, one of which is virtual reality. The tech helps bring the visualization of the store shelf from a “nondescript 2D PowerPoint slide into a really hyper-realistic environment,” he said.

It can be used with consumers to gain insight into how shopper behavior changes depending on shelf and aisle layout, and then with buyers and category merchants to relay those learnings and even allow them to shop the shelves themselves and compare them to the ones they already have in stores.

  • The team has also begun leaning into using AI for image recognition to efficiently digitize planograms, he added.
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The suggestions can be used to reorganize current shelf displays or imagine displays for new brands and categories, like the refrigerated breakfast space for its Just Crack an Egg brand, which launched in 2018, McKeon noted.

Shelf satisfaction: Slight tweaks can make a big impact. “The changes seem kind of simple, but it’s amazing what kind of differences in performance or differences in shopper behavior we’ll see,” McKeon said.

Kraft Mac & Cheese—in the classic, blue 7.25-oz. box—accounts for a solid chunk of the macaroni and cheese category, both in dollars sales and shelf space. As a result, McKeon said buyers thought they could place this product anywhere on the shelf and it would sell. Often, the products would land on the bottom shelf, and from a normal height view, it looked to the consumer like the product wasn’t in stock. The team found that sales were higher for the product and category when placed at a mid-to-high shelf level, and brought those findings to retailers. Those that executed the changes saw 3%–4% category growth.

McKeon added that within the ketchup category, retailers had often been organizing products by putting a block of mainstream products next to their counterparts marketed as “better for you.” Kraft Heinz found, through consumer research, that shoppers were typically choosing their products by size based on the amount of space in their fridge. So organizing the items by size on the shelf, not only made shopping easier but also supported the purchase of a new item or flavor, driving a 2%–3% category sales lift at the retailer that implemented the change.

McKeon said the company tries to bring these suggestions to all the retailers it’s sold in (that’s quite a few) for every category review and reset they have. But it isn’t just suggesting changes to make its own brands look good, but also ways to improve the full categories, McKeon said.

“When you go in and talk just about your brands, you immediately lose credibility as what retailers are looking for in a partner is to help them grow their categories,” he said. “Retailers are very receptive to it because there’s so much pressure to find opportunities for growth. And there’s only so many levers that you can pull.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.