Profile: Phil DeConto, VP, Category Management & Shopper Insights, Ferrero USA
Phil DeConto has been in the CPG food industry his entire career, even working at his local Stop & Shop as a kid. After college he began his career with Cape Cod Ice, developing distribution routes and managing deliveries and customer service. He then joined Frito-Lay, pursuing sales roles of increasing responsibility, before leaving for ConAgra Foods’ field category leadership team. He relocated to Naperville, Illinois, to develop the category strategy team for the ConAgra private brands business. DeConto remained through the transition of selling the company’s private label operations to Treehouse Foods in 2016, then was offered the opportunity to build out category management for Ferrero USA.
Please describe your current role.
DECONTO: My title is vice president, category management and shopper insights, but I think of myself as lead storyteller. My team uses data and insights to help the organization explain why Ferrero’s brands have been successful in confections and spreads, and how the retailer can use our brands to help grow their category.
How do insights, analytics and data fit into your organization?
DECONTO: Ferrero USA is a growth driver within our respective categories, and insights, analytics and data play a crucial role in our success. We collect information on our consumers and on our brand and category performance to inform strategy, which we then use to drive a true joint business planning relationship with our retail partners.
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Are there any recent trends impacting your team’s work?
DECONTO: Shoppers are seeking premiumized products throughout the store. The definition of “premiumized” can take on multiple meanings, such as improved ingredients, better functionality or increased convenience. The point is that shoppers look for products to deliver more for them, and they’re willing to pay more for that premium experience. In addition, the front end is a CPG ecosystem, and it is experiencing environmental change (online order pickup, spread of self- and frictionless checkout, expansion of categories stocked in shrinking merchandising space). CPG manufacturers will help retailers navigate this change, ensuring this highly profitable ecosystem continues to thrive.
What’s the biggest challenge facing retailers related to data and analytics?
DECONTO: With expanding access to data, one challenge that retailers face is analysis paralysis and delays to implementation. The rate of change, as dictated by the shopper, doesn’t allow for a measured pace of implementation. Retailers need to be able to make swift evaluations of data resources and decide “where the puck is going” to place their bets accordingly.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?
DECONTO: One of the great things about working at Ferrero is the way people’s eyes light up when you mention our brands, and my job is to help tell that story to our retailer partners. The great thing about category management is that, fundamentally, we’re paid to solve puzzles. Every day we’re presented with a series of puzzles that we need to solve to support both Ferrero and our retail partners. If you work the levers at your disposal then the solution is out there. The truest reward comes from seeing your solution implemented in-store, and the sales data backing up expectations.
DECONTO: We partnered with Nielsen to develop a Total Confections Assortment Tool. This resource is useful internally and externally as a lens to category performance. It has also been an important tool to demonstrate our competency as a growth validator in our categories.