As part of our series of alumni profiles, Brian Mehigan, Chairman of the CUBS External Advisory Board and Chief Strategy Officer with Kerry Group, sat down to speak with us about his career, strategic development and the future of the food industry.
A UCC Alumni, Brain graduated from the Bcomm programme in 1983 and went onto become Chief Financial Officer at Kerry Group before taking up his current position in October of this year.
From the outside at least, switching from Finance to Strategy in a multinational organisation like Kerry Group might seem like a radical departure, however as Brian explained during a recent board meeting at Cork University Business School in UCC, there is a great deal of overlap between the roles.
“Strategy for any organisation is all about making good choices, and as the organisation has grown over the last 30 years, the breadth and the depth of the choices we have to make is ever expanding…"
"[The positions are] different but strategy was part of my role for the past 16 years. Being Chief Strategy Officer allows me the time to focus on the key areas…
We have made a lot of brave choices along the way, that’s been part of my role across the last 30 years, so it’s great to have the opportunity to focus on pure strategy as I come toward the end of my career”.
Developing a strategy that addresses the fragmentation of the food industry is the challenge facing Brian and Kerry Group. Although the US food industry has witnessed growth worth €2 billion during the last three years, the top 100 food brands have lost €4 billion in market share to smaller producers offering a personalised and authentic food experience.
The craft brewing industry is an example of the accelerated change that has occurred in Ireland. This “quiet revolution” is indicative of the consumer’s demand for more natural and healthier produce and requires large brands to respond through transparency and no little innovation.
“The number of consumers who now pick up the pack and read the back of the label is up north of 50-60%. Ten years ago it was closer to 5%.
Consequently, food manufactures have been switching out the amount of sugar, salt, artificial colours and preservative, trans fats, and carcinogenetic ingredients that may have been in the recipe previously.
We call it the quiet revolution where producers have been cleaning up the recipe and the label.
From a Kerry Group perspective, we don’t make any chemicals or sell any chemicals. We’re a for food - from food company, which really plays into our strengths in terms of reformulating recipes right across the food and beverage industry to be more authentic and more for food - from food”.
Through tactical acquisitions, Kerry Group have acted as a consolidator within the industry throughout past 25 years and have been able to position themselves at the forefront of innovation to become the global market leader.
Over the last quarter century, Kerry Group have made 250 acquisitions across the globe, allowing it to “do more for customers in terms of innovation and the fast pace of change that’s happening in the industry”.
“Within the structure of our organisation there are central functions and governance, but we create 25,000 recipes to serve local needs.
We have people on the ground in every country that we serve, working in and out of our customer’s product development facilities and research facilities.
We sell into the top 100 food and beverage companies in the world and we’re in and out of their R&D labs and talking to their marketing people every week.
We have systems, databases, and apps where we can capture these insights and share them right across the world.
We know what is happening in Sao Paolo in Brazil, San Juan in Mexico or in Shanghai or Delhi. We know what’s going on with the consumer through the lens of our customers and we can share and deploy that to the benefit of the customers we make food products for”.