2021 Star Women in Grocery winner Nina Patel (Q&A)
Canadian Grocer staff
Vice-president, Brand & Innovation
Kraft Heinz Canada
How did you get into the grocery/CPG business?
My parents would probably say that after age 10 they knew I was destined for a career in business when I (very confidently) pitched them a business case on the merits of ‘investing’ in a Nintendo console for the family (true story). As I got older, my marketing classes in university typically got my best attendance records and wired me to dissect the strategy and creativity behind the work I was seeing in the world. I was always curious and wanted to have a hand in building brands that people connected with every day, so after graduating I set my sights on working in CPG.
What are your career highlights/greatest achievements?
My current role as VP of Brand & Innovation has definitely topped the list for some of my best career highlights as we’ve made important step-changes to put the consumer at the heart of everything we do. In communications, we’ve really adopted a team culture of agile creativity by taking more risks, acting with speed and being more timely in culture. This has earned us incredible consumer engagement and a record number of global awards for ideas like Heinz Puzzle, Tilt, Kraft Peanut Butter Shared Spaces and Pumpkin Spice KD to name a few. I’ve also led the creation of a new internal agency capability called The Kitchen, which is dedicated to driving content at the speed of culture in social and digital. It’s been a big win in our ambition to fuel best-in-class digital creativity and data intelligence. Finally, as most of us know, innovation often fails in the marketplace so it’s been great to see the success we’ve had with the introduction of Kraft Hazelnut spreads made with no palm oil, the reinvention of our infant portfolio to all-natural on Heinz By Nature, and the creation of a new brand called Crave.
What is the biggest challenge you faced in your career?
Trying to drive transformation on the business during an unprecedented pandemic is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced, but I am an optimist and I love a good challenge! Having the right combination of talent and partners around you who are passionate, resilient and big thinkers has been proof that even in the toughest of circumstances, anything is possible.
What is your leadership style/philosophy?
I’m a big believer in empowering the team to be bold, take risks and know there’s a tolerance for some failure, as long as we learn and improve for next time. I like to take calculated risks and encourage this mindset with the team and our partners so that a culture of creativity and ownership permeates everything we do. We all want to do great work that has impact and I see it as my role to really support, encourage and unlock opportunities with the team.
What do you like most about your job?
I think it’s a privilege to be able to drive creativity and growth on some of the most iconic brands in Canada, but it’s an even bigger win when you can do it surrounded by really smart, collaborative teammates who are full of passion and also share your desire to make big things happen. Being around that energy is contagious and pushes everyone to want to keep daring to do better. I’m so passionate about the work and seeing the results, but the people I work with make the ride a lot more fun.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
I'll never forget a piece of advice I got during an interview for a marketing assistant job when I was fresh out of school. It was from a great consumer marketer and mentor who I look up to still to this day. The crux of the advice was about identifying and building your own personal brand early on. Proactively thinking about what your ‘superpower’ is and playing into that strength helps you capitalize on what sets you apart from others, and can do wonders in shaping your career. It was invaluable advice for an impressionable marketer just starting out and is something that I continue to build on every day.
Click here for the full list of 2021 Star Women in Grocery award winners.