Profile: Debbie Zefting, Barilla

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Profile: Debbie Zefting, Barilla

By Erika Flynn - 01/15/2019

Debbie Zefting started her career in brand management, working at a few small companies. Wanting to broaden her scope, she moved to Nielsen and later IRI, spending nearly a decade at the two gaining experience in the service/analytics business.

She also spent 15 years working at The Coca-Cola Co., serving in roles in both its headquarters and in the field before being charged with building out and leading the shopper marketing function at Barilla in January of 2012.

She believes relationships in the industry are as important as the skills and knowledge. As the daughter of a former CPG guy, she moved a lot during her childhood but learned the importance of mentorship and influence. “One of the first people I saw after I received my award was [EnsembleIQ’s] Steve Frenda,” she says. “My dad was an influence in Steve’s career, so it’s funny how things come full circle.”

She is one of the Path to Purchase Institute’s Women of Excellence honorees in the “Collaboration” category.

What are your current responsibilities?

Zefting: I lead our shopper strategy and engagement team, which includes marketing services and shopper marketing. We touch most things that the shopper sees from merchandising/POS to consumer promotions and retailer-specific programs.

How important is collaboration in your daily work?

Zefting: Nothing we do can be done in a vacuum. Our merchandising tools have a big impact on our supply chain team and also require frequent discussions with our sales team, so we’re constantly working cross functionally. With our headquarters in Italy, our promotions and creative have to fit our brand direction at the U.S. level and meet approval overseas, which means my team is in close and frequent contact with brand. Finally, as the role of shopper marketing has evolved to be more along the entire path to purchase, we’re always looking for new ways to touch the shopper and are linking up with our consumer engagement team much more frequently.

What qualities constitute a true leader?

Zefting: I used to think that as a manager I needed to have all the answers. Now I know that my team knows a lot more than I do and with the right questions and coaching, they can come up with some really good solutions. I also have found that being able to have candid conversations, while uncomfortable, can lead to better results and stronger relationships. I like to challenge the status quo and test new solutions.

What can you tell us about the long-term strategic category initiative at Kroger?

Zefting: It’s a perfect example of cross-functional collaboration. Kroger has defined an Italian Category Strategy that we’ve supported by identifying key triggers and pain points for their shopper. This led to several cross-functional initiatives, all of which dictated a close working relationship with the sales lead, our broker partner and our shopper agency so we can maximize our trade and shopper programs. This allows us to analyze and react to key business needs and drive category sales, and we’re constantly testing new capabilities we think will resonate with the Kroger shopper.

What motivates you most in terms of the shopping experience?

Zefting: My role is like a puzzle and allows me to utilize skills accumulated throughout my career. Any given day, we’re trying to identify insights about how and why the shopper shops and buys, understand retailer needs, understand how to communicate to the shopper to drive conversion and build in brand and corporate goals, so we need to constantly be leaning on our agencies, retail, internal and vendor partners to develop the right approach to reach our shoppers.

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