Profile: Heddy Parker DeMaria, Vice President, Consumer and Customer Insights, Pinnacle Foods

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Profile: Heddy Parker DeMaria, Vice President, Consumer and Customer Insights, Pinnacle Foods

By Chris Gelbach - 09/19/2017
Photo by Steve Hockstein

As vice president of consumer and customer insights at Pinnacle Foods, Heddy Parker DeMaria leads the company’s consumer and customer insights team in support of the full breadth of the company’s research needs. According to De- Maria, the consumer is at the core of all business decisions at Pinnacle. In her role she reports to the president of the frozen and grocery business unit, and she sits on the leadership team both for the unit and for Pinnacle’s marketing leadership team. DeMaria brings more than 20 years of market research experience to her position, having previously held shopper and consumer insights roles for leading companies such as VF Corp., Kraft Foods, Nabisco and The Nielsen Co.

You’ve been in a variety of roles, some spanning both consumer and shopper insights. How do you differentiate the two?

DEMARIA: I think of consumer insights and shopper insights as complementary functions. Shopper insights address a specific mindset of consumers as they become shoppers. Our consumers don’t become different people when they’re shopping. They bring everything that makes them who they are – their values, their attitudes, their perceptions. They’re just performing a specific task in which certain values and attitudes become more important.

Are there any interesting facets to how Pinnacle Foods uses research to develop consumer insights?

DEMARIA: I think of research as our toolkit. We always start with what we are trying to achieve. What is the opportunity or issue that we need to address? And then we go to our toolkit to find the appropriate type of research to address that opportunity or solve the problem.

Is there a recent business issue at Pinnacle that your group diagnosed in this way?

DEMARIA: One that probably stands out the most for me is our recent work we did in the baking category, which had been declining year upon year. It was basically falling off the cliff and taking our brand off as well. It was a tough diagnosis, because what people said and what they did were two different things. People said they were leaving the baking mix category because they wanted to eat healthier. We learned that most were eating as many sweets as ever. They were just shifting to more convenient methods of getting these sweets. We also learned that as household size was shrinking and as people were becoming more concerned about waste, a full-size cake began to make less sense for many occasions.

How was your company able to address these issues?

DEMARIA: We developed a new Duncan Hines product called Perfect Size for 1. It’s a new format of baking mixes that addresses all the consumer barriers. It’s extremely convenient. You just pour it into a mug, add a little bit of milk or water, and microwave it for about a minute. And it’s a single-serve portion size so it allows for easy cleanup, no waste. This product launched in February, and it turned the category around. Last year, the category was declining at about 6%, and latest year-to-date numbers show cake mixes are growing at about 1%. Duncan Hines has gained more than 7 share points in the cake mix category, and the product is on the path to reach $100 million in sales in year one.

How do you think companies should handle their consumer insights function as the marketing landscape continues to evolve?

DEMARIA: My philosophy is that an organization is a lot like a living, breathing body. It needs oxygen not only to survive but to thrive. And insights are a company’s oxygen. A company with a strong insight ability will be at a competitive advantage. Companies today are under enormous pressures to cut costs. As a result, the role of insights can be denigrated and made less central to business operations. I caution companies that choose this path. It’s a funny thing about oxygen. You often don’t realize its value until it’s gone. No organization will live long without it, much less thrive.