Profile: Christie Ciccolone, Director, Shopper Innovation & Experience, Nestle Coffee Partners
Christie Ciccolone studied engineering in college but has always had a flair for analytics, so she wasn’t surprised that she ended up at IRI for her first job – quickly delving into the world of syndicated data and consumer panel data. After nearly 12 years working with a variety of CPG clients, she moved to Boston Beer Co. in a business analytics role. In 2013, she was ready for a new challenge and landed at Starbucks, which she says has been a great fit because of the company’s strong emphasis on understanding shoppers. Starting in market analytics, she moved onto the category development team and then shopper innovation and experience. She moved under the Nestle Coffee Partners umbrella when Nestle purchased the rights to market and distribute Starbucks packaged coffee, and now she serves as the team’s director of shopper innovation and experience. She is one of three Women of Excellence honorees in the “Innovation” category.
What are your current responsibilities?
Ciccolone: I lead an amazing team of partners that has a relentless focus on commercializing solutions grounded in shopper problems to solve. This starts with partnering with our market analytics team to understand shopper insights and includes everything from concept ideation and design to sell in, production and all the way through execution in retail. We don’t stop until we’ve brought an elevated coffee shopping experience to life in store.
What has your role been in the ongoing aisle reinvention?
Ciccolone: Aisle reinvention has to start with the shopper problems to solve. We know that coffee drinking is a very emotional and sensorial experience, but most grocery shopping is done on autopilot. While many retailers have brought higher levels of engagement to the perimeter, the center store continues to lag in delivering experience. We know that the worst thing a shopper can feel about something is nothing. Through the power of the Starbucks brand equities, we can evoke the coffee drinking moment and bring emotional connection into the shopping trip. My role is to continue to drive the evolution of our initiative as shopper needs and retail landscapes are constantly changing. We’re creating more solutions that unlock more opportunities, but we need to continue to understand where shoppers are going and meet them there.
What qualities do you believe constitute a true innovator?
Ciccolone: Curiosity, because you have to want to understand what drives peoples’ behaviors and learn how you can develop solutions that will resonate; collaboration, because you have to surround yourself with people who come with various points of view and can see the same thing through different lenses to create rich dialogue; and being relentless. We say that we relentlessly challenge the status quo. The easiest thing for retailers to do in their stores is nothing, so we have to be the voice that’s driving change in a way that benefits them, the shopper and our business.
What’s an example of your work that you’re most proud of?
Ciccolone: It’s less about being proud of a specific innovation and more about being proud of the breadth of solutions we’ve built and continue to evolve. This can never be a one-size-fits-all solution. We have to engage different shoppers in different ways and also be able to adapt for different retail environments. We have solutions that will resonate with shoppers who need help navigating the coffee aisle and we have out-of-aisle solutions for the growing base of shoppers who no longer venture into center-store aisles. I’m proud of how all of these solutions elevate the shopping trip and that our initiative has created more opportunities with our customers and strengthened our overall partnerships.
What excites you most about this space?
Ciccolone: I’m excited about the rate of change with which new innovations are becoming available through technology. Overloading on technology might not be the answer, but we need to understand and choose the elements that create that better shopping experience in a personalized way for each individual shopper, whether at the shelf or before they get there. The Starbucks Siren is a beacon in the store and helps bring consumers down the aisle, but can we build on that and make the engagement even more personal and authentic? Every coffee drinker’s connection to coffee is personal, whether that person is looking for foundational coffee learning, new ways of brewing, understanding our social responsibility initiatives, or entertaining friends and family. Technology can help us create the individual experience that resonates most with each shopper and deliver on a great shopping experience.