NEWS16 July 2008

‘Insight should feel good about its role’ – Jeremy Garlick

Premier Foods new insight chief says senior execs are ‘all ears’ when it comes to consumer understanding

UK— You learn a lot of things working as an executive assistant to a CEO, much of which you’re probably best not to repeat. Take Jeremy Garlick – he’s not going to give you the skinny on his time within the inner circle of Sainsbury’s boss Justin King. But there is one thing he is willing to share about his stint in the upper echelons of the UK’s third-largest retailer, and it is this.

“Insight, as an industry, should feel very good about its role at this kind of level within these companies. People are all ears – why wouldn’t they want to know what their customers want from them. As an industry, we should just be more confident about what we do, and ask ourselves, ‘If we’re not saying how this company is going to grow, if we’re not having an input in that debate, who is?’”

Garlick was head of Sainsbury’s customer insight team when King joined in 2004 to lead a turnaround of the business, which was losing market share to rivals Asda and Tesco owing largely to supply chain problems that often left shelves understocked.

“A key part of what I did there was to work with the leadership of the company following Justin King’s appointment to say, ‘Look, Sainsbury’s hasn’t been performing as well as we’d like it to have been – what do our customers want from us and what can we do to get the business going in the right direction?’,” says Garlick.

That direction is up, which is where the retailer’s latest sales and profit figures are heading. And Garlick is proud insight had its part to play. “The customer input was a key input to the turnaround and the delivery of the Sainsbury’s plan,” he said.

Now he has taken on a new role at Premier Foods, becoming general manager of group insight for the UK food manufacturer. “It’s a pretty exciting company to come and work for. Premier Foods has gone through a series acquisitions over the years, so there is a lot to work with,” says Garlick.

The two most recent deals – 2006’s £460m purchase of Campbell’s UK & Irish business, and 2007’s £1.2bn takeover of RHM – added the Oxo, Homepride, Sharwoods and Mr Kipling’s brands, among others, to Premier’s product range.

Hovis, another RHM brand, is one Garlick plans to spend some time working on, as are the meat-free Quorn product line and the Cauldron range of vegetarian ready meals. But his is a group-wide role that will touch on all corners of the business.

“We are the biggest food manufacturer in the UK by some way now, and part of the reason for that is through understanding the consumer and the shopper better than anyone else,” says Garlick. “The insight team here is really strong, doing really good work, and I’m here to support that and add to that where I can.

“Where I hope to really add value is to take all that good work and bring it alive for the decision makers within the company.” And from experience, Garlick knows they’ll be listening.

Author: Brian Tarran