NAME:
Larry Gray

CURRENT POSITION:
Shopper Insight Team Lead

COMPANY:
The Boston Beer Company

TENURE WITH CURRENT COMPANY:
5.5 years

YEARS OF INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE:
25+ years

GIVE US A BRIEF HISTORY OF YOUR CAREER.
I began my career at General Foods after serving as a co-op student. I spent 10 years there working in a variety of analytical positions across different divisions, and during the transition to Kraft Foods (and now Mondelez). From there, I had the opportunity to build and lead my first category management team with Coca-Cola Enterprises in the metro NY area, which led to a greater role overseeing a larger region team.

I then joined Heineken USA to help broaden and elevate the company’s category and shopper capabilities. The highlight at Heineken was being a part of a category roundtable project at Walmart that spanned 3 years and drove improved category results. Finally, I joined Boston Beer in early 2015 with the opportunity to truly build something from scratch. I was intrigued by the smaller company and the story of our founder Jim Koch. We have accomplished so much in 5.5 years, but have only begun our journey building world class category and shopper insights.

WHY ARE YOU EXCITED TO BE PART OF THE SIMA?
I have been involved with the CMA for several years and have seen the positive impact it has on the industry and for me personally. I was extremely excited to see the additional focus on shopper insights and the formation of SIMA, which coincided with my most recent career move into this area. I jumped right into forming a private network group focused on smaller to medium sized companies so we could share best practices as well as common challenges. This exemplifies the power that an industry organization can have on companies, teams and individual people. I have always seen tremendous benefits from the CMA and hope to pay that back by being a part of SIMA.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH WITH THE SIMA BOARD?
Collectively the board has developed a robust agenda of topics and aggressive timelines. I think it is critical for companies to have a common approach to shopper insights allowing for greater collaboration. Whether you are just starting shopper insights or expanding, having a set of standards helps smaller and medium sized companies with a roadmap for building a successful capability. We all agree that future growth depends on better understanding the shopper of tomorrow. Having an active and engaged industry organization brings more companies together to share and learn around a common set of principles.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF? (Career or personal or both.)
Professionally, it is tough to choose one, but I’ll go with my current role at Boston Beer. I was asked to move into a position that focused more on shopper insights, an area where we had done very little work. Fast forward and we have made significant investments in people, data, tools and research. Our brand plans, external communications and retailer partnerships are much more grounded in shopper insights. We, as an organization, are now in a better position to continue our growth trajectory by identifying future opportunities.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED IN THE SHOPPER INSIGHTS DISCIPLINE GOING FORWARD AND WHY?
A couple of areas come to mind, including technology and eCommerce, but I would also say a consistent shopper insights standard across CPG. Similar to ‘category management’, shopper insights can mean different things to different companies and people. I often hear shopper marketing used interchangeably with shopper insights.

I believe having more consistency in not only the definition, but also skill sets and requirements for roles at various levels is crucial. The CMA has gone a great job in this area and I feel we have an opportunity to mirror this with SIMA. Consistency will allow for better career planning as companies map out potential roles for employees interested in shopper insights (as many currently do in sales, marketing and finance). Additionally, alignment around shopper insights will drive greater collaboration between retailers and manufacturers to develop improved category plans that result in stronger sales growth.