If you ask Cindy Vallar about her favorite part of her job as vice president of marketing at Golden Grain, don't expect a short answer.
"I like a lot of it," she laughs.
A Connecticut native who focused on marketing and finance in getting both her undergraduate and graduate degrees, she finds that her field is well suited to her personality.
"The thing about marketing is, there's all facets of business," she explains. "There's a lot of analysis, there's a lot of business-oriented decision making, there's also a lot of creativity, and then there's sort of the sociological/psychological benefit of trying to understand how your consumers think and act and use that in ways that makes your brand more relevant and interesting to them, and that they want to incorporate it into their lives."
Despite her current enthusiasm for marketing, however, her first job after graduating from Syracuse University in upstate New York focused on the financial side of things.
"I entered a financially oriented training program with General Electric, and the thing I liked about it was that it was both work assignments and classroom training," she says. "Every six months I got a new work assignment and I also got classroom training to support it. It was a nice, introductory way to understand how business worked, and because I was switching assignments every six months, there wasn't that scary 'This is what you'll be doing for the rest of your life' element."
Despite success and promotions in her five years in finance, she decided to change her direction.
"When I was in the world of finance, it was a lot of reporting telling people what had happened," she says. "I think now, with the greater emphasis on teams, I think the financial people play a much bigger role in making decisions but at the time it seemed more distinct. I didn't see an opportunity for me to be more action oriented. When I decided to get my masters, the objective was to be in part of the business that was results oriented and that I could drive performance as opposed to just report on it."
She found what she was looking for both in marketing and in the food industry. After spending over 2 years with Pillsbury in Minneapolis, she went on to Cleveland to work for Nestle. Her tour of cold climates ended about three years ago, when she was promoted to work in the Nestle beverage division in San Francisco.
When Nestle decided to move beverage operations to Southern California, Vallar remained in Northern California, working for a small company in Santa Cruz that made a high quality, premium brand of natural vitamins, spending two years there.
At that time, she heard about the Golden Grain position from a friend and interviewed for the job. She started in June and has been learning about Rice-A-Roni, Pasta-Roni, their Near East line, and the new Simmering Suppers products ever since.
"Day to day, I'm responsible for all the marketing activities for the brand," she says. "The way I think about it is, working with my team, we affect anything that deals with the consumer on these brands. All the packaging, all the advertising, any kind of in-store activity, couponing, anything that touches the consumer is marketing driven and that's where we focus our efforts."
With experience in living in so many of America's different regions, it would be easy to assume that Vallar's personal insights play a key role in her job. That's not entirely the case, though.
"The challenge in marketing is not to constantly think of yourself as the target audience," she explains. "You'll think, 'Well, this is right for me, so it must be right for the rest of the world,' but that's why there are lots of opportunities in marketing to expose yourself to different types of people via consumer research.
"You can use your own insights originally, but it's important to validate that with real live consumers who are out there day in and day out buying your products."
When pressed to pick a favorite aspect of her job, Vallar finally focuses on the creative aspects.
"I think the part I like the best is when we're faced with a challenge, working with the people on the team and being creative in ways to try to address issues," she says. "Sort of the brainstorming and creative piece of it, in terms of 'Here's the market situation, this is where the issue is let's be creative on how we go about addressing it."
She notes that this activity isn't just confined to solving problems in the marketplace, but is also applied to new opportunities as well.
"That's a big part of the marketing process and that's what will ultimately drive the growth in the marketplace constantly demonstrating the initiative to go out there and say, 'What can we do differently? How can we do this better?'" she explains. "Being creative and being proactive in thinking about ways to improve the brand's performance is key, because if you're not doing it, your competition is."
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