Conagra names McDonald’s exec to head grocery and snacks business

Dive Brief:

  • Conagra Brands has named Lucy Brady president of its grocery and snacks operations starting June 15, the company said in a statement. Brady will lead the ongoing modernization and growth of brands such as Slim Jim, Duncan Hines and Angie’s Boomchickapop.

  • Brady brings extensive experience in marketing, corporate strategy, innovation, business development and value creation, Conagra said. She spent the past six years at McDonald’s working on initiatives to improve the customer experience at the restaurant chain. 

  • As consumer demands and trends evolve, Brady will need to ensure that Conagra continues to innovate its iconic brands and maintain their relevance amid fierce competition from other CPG giants and upstarts.

Dive Insight:

The decision to hire Brady is reflective of trends infiltrating the food space as a whole. Consumers are snacking more and what they are looking for in the foods they eat is rapidly changing; from how, when and where they eat to what the products are made from and even how their ingredients are sourced.

As Conagra noted, Brady spent much of the last half-decade working on measures at McDonald’s that improved the experience for customers and made them want to come back to eat at the fast-food giant’s locations. These initiatives included delivery, loyalty, digital ordering and pickup and personalized communications.

Prior to McDonald’s, she spent 19 years at Boston Consulting Group advising some of the world’s largest consumer companies on growth, innovation and transformation.

While some of Brady’s work will change because she is going from a restaurant chain to a maker of CPG products sold in stores, her underlying goal remains the same: Keep people coming back to buy Conagra’s brands. A key part of achieving that goal is innovating and maintaining relevance in the face of changing consumer preferences and looming competition from other CPG giants and countless upstarts.

After several years of deal-making, from the smaller purchases like Angie’s Boomchickapop and Duke’s meat snacks to the mega deal of Pinnacle Foods for $10.9 billion, Conagra has spent the past few years integrating these and other deals while refreshing core brands like Healthy Choice and Banquet that CEO Sean Connolly once said were “trapped in time.” As a president at Conagra Brands, Brady will be tasked to help prevent that from happening again.

Shoppers increasingly are looking for food manufacturers to keep their brands relevant, a task CPGs have made a central focus after falling short for several years — opening the door for scrappy young brands to connect with the public.

Conagra, for example, has overhauled how it innovates by watching social media and digging through reams of data to increase the likelihood that its products would resonate with the public. After watching consumers on social media struggle with their baking endeavors, Conagra last summer launched Duncan Hines Epic Baking Kits with Fruity Pebbles that featured the cereal as a batter mix-in, frosting flavoring and as a topping.

Brady will be tasked with keeping iconic brands such as Duncan Hines and Slim Jim relevant while expanding the reach of newer offerings like Angie’s popcorn. It’s a tall order, but as the food industry evolves faster than ever before and innovation becomes paramount, companies like Conagra will lean heavily on the insight and expertise of executives intimately familiar with the consumer mindset.