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#17: Amplify Snack Brands’ Sr. Supply Chain Planner Explains Big-Picture Inventory Strategy

We spoke with Amplify Snack Brands’ very own Senior Supply Chain Planner! How MUCH of your product should you STOCK? Whether it’s your first product run or your 100th – it’s a question you’re continuously asking yourself!

While it’s tempting to consult your nearest fortune teller on this matter, it’s 100% not recommended. 🙅 Instead, check out this interview with Ellen Wilson! Answering the above question for clean snack brands is her expertise…

Let us break it down for you…

[0:50] Introduction.

[1:25] Ellen’s background + career journey which led to Amplify Snack Brands! A start in customer service.

[3:28] What traits would someone need to excel in your current role as a Supply Chain Planner at Amplify Snack Brands. It’s a giant puzzle! Organization is huge.

[6:00] Amplify Snack Brands is an umbrella company for a lot of CPG brands! What are those?

[7:00] What’s your day-to-day schedule at Amplify Snack Brands look like? Production planning. Coordinating across teams.

[9:50] How does a small brand create a forecast or projections without baseline data? Be in constant communication with your sales team. Watch out for consumer trends in your sector. Safety stock = your buffer in case there’s a bump in the road.

[12:00] More on safety stock at Amplify Snack Brands.

[15:25] Let’s talk about Amplify Snack Brands being acquired by Hershey! An increase in resources as well as an overall feeling of stability. And, there’s lots of chocolate!!!

[19:30] What are some tools (or tips) that small-to-medium business owners and/or teams should work out of?

[21:00] What’re the most common issues that small-to-medium businesses are most often facing? An important note about big box stores. Put your brand in the right place!

[24:50] What should a business do with waste (distressed products)? From TJ Max to charity channels.

[27:27] More trends happening across operations right now. Multi-packs are huge! But, they can be a pain for manufacturers. Buying habits + time of year.

[30:00] Where do your forecasters at Amplify Snack Brands track consumer trends?

[32:00] Final thoughts!

Mentions from this episode: 

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Learn more about Amplify Snack Brands

Ellen’s worked with some amazing (and delicious) brands! Check ‘em out –

Oatmega
SkinnyPop Popcorn
Pirate’s Booty
Paqui Tortillas Chips

Stay in touch:

Join UMAI’s Facebook Group: CORE 3

Read – #17: Amplify Snack Brands’ Sr. Supply Chain Planner Explains Big-Picture Inventory Strategy

 

[AUTOMATED TRANSCRIPT MAY BE SUBJECT TO MINOR TYPOGRAPHICAL ERRORS/VARIATIONS]

Narrator:
Calling all consumer goods, business owners and marketing professionals, does planning content ahead of time stress you out?

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It’s 100% free and packed with essential tactics that you can implement as soon as today. So join in, visit our website at umaimarketing.com/minicourse. All right, let’s get on with the pod.

Alison Smith:
Welcome to the UMAI Social Circle where we talk consumer goods tips to help business owners and marketers grow. We’re Karin and Alison co-founders of UMAI and we’re being joined by Ellen Wilson, Senior Supply Planner at Amplify Snack Brands. Thanks for joining us, Ellen.

Ellen Wilson:
Thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Alison Smith:
Yes. And Ellen is a dear, dear friend. She’s not just a really amazing supply planner for CPG at Amplify Snack Brands, she is a dear friend, so we’re really lucky to have you and we’re excited.

So let’s start with just your background, did you always have an interest in working in operations or in CPG? How’d you get here, working for Amplify Snack Brands?

Ellen Wilson:
Really randomly to be honest. I was working at a marketing studio I went to school for marketing and we just had a friend Charlotte Taylor, who was doing recruiting, at the time was working at a recruiting firm and she had a random job for a customer service role at a growing CPG company. And, I was ready for a change from my current job and so I took a chance and five years later here I am at Amplify Snack Brands.

Alison Smith:
I completely forgot that you were hired as a customer service person.

Ellen Wilson:
Yes. So it was just a random customer service representative and it turned out to be better than I thought because the customer service, it wasn’t like consumer-facing, it was like Target and Kroger and those were my customers so it was almost like a fulfillment logistics role more than it was customer service.

So, it ended up being even better than I thought it would be going into it.

Karin Samelson:
And, then it naturally progressed into planning or did you end up that job and you’re like that’s me right there?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So, it was super random. I had just gotten over being in customer service, I just wanted to do something more and what was so great about Amplify Snack Brands at the time, it was still such a small company that if you wanted to try something else, it was just really easy to do so.

So, the role for the supply planner at Amplify Snack Brands opened up and I just was either going to leave Amplify Snack Brands or wanted to do something else.

So, I got the chance to try it and it really just clicked for me and it’s been such a good fit for me and it’s something I would’ve never even thought to try before being at Amplify Snack Brands.

So, it’s really just fun how that was so random, but it’s been such a wonderful fit for me and how my brain works.

Alison Smith:
So, how your brain works? What traits would you say that people should have if they want to have a career in this?

Ellen Wilson:
Very logistical? So, I think of it as a giant puzzle that I’m putting together every single week at Amplify Snack Brands.

So, I just take all of our Amplify Snack Brands products, all of our commands, I’m scheduling six different commands every single week and there’s just tons of different inputs that I’m taking every single week and having to say what I need them to make in their specifications of what I can run each week.

Ellen Wilson:
So, it’s just a giant puzzle that you’re always having to figure out and that’s fun for me, I don’t think that’s fun for everyone, but for me that is really gratifying and when I can get it there it feels really good. I would say it keeps you on your toes every single week, especially with such a growing company.

What I planned last week isn’t necessarily what’s needed this week, so that I’m having to go back and say, “Okay, I said 5,000 this week, but now I need 10,000 because it’s much bigger than I thought.”

Ellen Wilson:
So, definitely thinking logistically, willing to… I’m looking at my planner right now, it’s always on my brain. Just willing to pivot quickly to figure something out, find creative solutions for something that might not be going well is really a lot of my job.

Karin Samelson:
Like, an organized problem solver.

Ellen Wilson:
Exactly. Yeah. Something like that.

Karin Samelson:
I think organization skills. I think that might be a must based on that explanation.

Alison Smith:
And, someone who loves spreadsheets as well.

Ellen Wilson:
In my arms, like my baby.

Karin Samelson:
You must love Excel. Oh, Gosh. Okay.

Ellen Wilson:
Absolutely. And, that’s what’s also been so fun.

It was like, I didn’t have a ton of Excel skills before I came into this role at Amplify Snack Brands and it was just something where I got pushed into it and would have to be like on Google every day being like, “How to do this and how to do that.”

But, I have learned so much and this is such a nerdy thing to say, but Excel is amazing and you can do so much and I feel like I’ve just even scratched the surface of what you can do.

So, for anybody starting out, it’s doing any kind of inventory, planning, forecasting, anything like Excel is where it’s at 100%.

Karin Samelson:
Wow. That’s the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard you Ellen.

Ellen Wilson:
I was embarrassed to admit that for a while, but I’ve gotten to the point where like, I am who I am and I love it so.

Karin Samelson:
I love it. I really do. Well, let’s backtrack a little bit and tell us more about Amplify Snack Brands. So it’s the umbrella company for a lot of CPG brands. So, what are those?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah, so SkinnyPop is like Numero Uno that’s what it started with and then now we have Pirate’s Booty, which is puff for children. Yeah. For children. It’s for everybody.

Alison Smith:
It’s for children [crosstalk 00:06:24]?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah, I didn’t know that.

Ellen Wilson:
It’s a children’s brand, but-

Alison Smith:
I did not know that.

Ellen Wilson:
Is it? I don’t think so. Yeah. It’s for everyone. And, then we have Paqui Tortilla Chips which is kind of a better for you Dorito lime and Oatmega Protein Bars.

Karin Samelson:
Wow. So, you’re working on planning at Amplify Snack Brands for all of those brands? Are you-

Ellen Wilson:
No, right now I’m just doing SkinnyPop for Amplify Snack Brands.

I have worked on all of them in my years at Amplify Snack Brands, which has been interesting because they’re all so different with such different requirements and planning cycles and everything but right now I’m doing the big dogs SkinnyPop.

Alison Smith:
Big dog.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah.

Alison Smith:
So, walk us through your day to day. I have never been in operations. It’s kind of confusing to the people that are doing it right now for their own businesses. On daily basis, what do you do as a senior supply planner at Amplify Snack Brands?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So, I’ll go through my weekly buckets, because its like the same process every week. So every week I’m taking a new set of our open sales orders, open work orders, open transfer orders, forecast, inventory at all of our warehouses.

And, I’m putting that into a model that we’ve built. Everything’s in Excel which is wild for doing this when you’re big planning manufacturers.

So, I put all of that into a model for each manufacture that I’m planning for and I’m basically finding what I need to make in my next open production slot.

Ellen Wilson:
So, that’s the main core of my job is making those production plans for all of our commands, but also anytime I see something that’s off on an item or inventory or something, I have to go figure that out.

And, I’m talking to demand planning all week long, I’m talking to our transportation team all week long to figure out where my inventory is, I’m talking to our deployment team to say like, “Hey, your rush order on this.

You need to get it to this place.” I’m talking to our customer service team, they’re asking, “Where’s this product? Can we get sooner? Can we get it and this too instead of this?”

Ellen Wilson:
So, I’m talking to everyone in operations because everything changes so quickly all the time especially with such a growth-based company. If we get an opportunity to do something, it’s not like, that’s not in the four week block window of forecast. You need to push that out. It’s like, what can we do to make it happen?

Ellen Wilson:
So, there’s just fires, there’s opportunities, there’s just situations, shut down the manufacturers, everything like that I’m just having to deal with every single week. That sounds negative, but you have to do it.

And, then there’s just lots of weekly meetings about everything going on. So my main job really is to make those production plans, but I would say 50/50 making the production plans from a base set of data and then going and tweaking for exceptions and fires and situations that come about.

Alison Smith:
Yeah. So, that’s so interesting. And the projection part rattles my brain in a lot of different ways. And so you’re talking about base data. So, you’re more established company now, but how does a small brand go about figuring out those projections without that base data?

Ellen Wilson:
It’s still hard without base data. So, a forecast for us is like, Bible for us. Without a forecast, I can’t do anything. I can react to what’s in our open sales orders but other than that, I have no idea what to make in the future.

Alison Smith:
And, that’s like if you were only focusing on that, you’d be a step behind all the time.

Ellen Wilson:
I’d be late. Nothing would get anywhere on time. So, especially being a more established brand, I’m having to lock things out weeks in advance. So, I’m having to predict the future based on the forecast, which is a production of that nature.

So, I would say someone who is just starting out that doesn’t have a robust forecasting system, anything like that, having a really close relationship with whoever is doing your sales is so key because they’re going to be the only people that can help you with that.

Yet, they’re going to be able to tell you what they’re trying to sell, what they are selling, what’s expected. So that is just like, I would say the most important thing is to just have that really close relationship and constant communication with them.

Ellen Wilson:
Another thing is just to really watch consumer trends in your sector. So like for popcorn, we’re always watching our competitors, we’re watching just the buying habits, but it really is just trying to predict the future more than anything. And, a lot of it relies on us building safety stock.

So, I’m building the amount that we’re saying we need in two weeks, but I’m also building a couple of weeks buffer so if that doesn’t happen, I’ve got something to play with.

Ellen Wilson:
So, finding that amount of safety stock that is going to cover bumps in the road, but not be too much that you’re just like holding products you don’t need, or like is going to go expired before you can sell it or whatnot.

That’s that sweet spot of being prepared for the bumps in the road, being prepared for what’s going to happen, but not just building inventory you don’t need all this.

Karin Samelson:
Let’s talk about safety stock. I really liked that. Is there a certain percentage that a brand should keep in the back?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So for me, I base it off of… So there’s the full shelf life of your product. That’s from production to when you shouldn’t eat it anymore. And, then pretty much, I wouldn’t say probably all, I don’t know for sure, but I’m assuming all brands with an expiration also have a sellable shelf life.

So, we have a portion of our full shelf life that we can still ship to customers so that they can guarantee they get the product with enough time to sell it on their shelves.

For me, I take that sellable product window and I do enough that like, so for instance, if it’s eight weeks, I won’t produce more than four to five weeks of stock at a time.

Ellen Wilson:
If I produce anything close to eight weeks, there’s the opportunity that we won’t get the forecast and then it’s just, we’re throwing it away or selling it in distress where we don’t get the margin.

And, I’m trying to build four to five at the most so that I can have enough to cover a few weeks if something comes in double the forecast that week, I’ve got it, but it’s not so much that we’re paying storage fees for it. We’re potentially just throwing it away because I’ve made too much.

So, it’s just that sweet spot where you feel comfortable with the weeks of supply. That’s how I judge everything, it’s like weeks of supply. And, finding that weeks of supply that makes you feel comfortable that you have a buffer, but that you can also get through it before it goes short dated.

Karin Samelson:
Gosh, I-

Ellen Wilson:
[crosstalk 00:13:40].

Karin Samelson:
It seems pretty stressful to handle all this. It’s a lot.

Ellen Wilson:
Operations is not for the lighthearted.

Karin Samelson:
Right. Yes.

Ellen Wilson:
It’s a very stressful job. I like it and it’s busy all the time and I always have something to do but there are there’s some days-

Karin Samelson:
Like throwing away product, that would be so difficult. Yeah.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. And, it’s funny because two of my biggest schools are Caseyville, which is making sure our orders get fulfilled a certain percent and then waste, they’re making sure about waste, but it is small.

So, I’m truly having to find that middle ground where I can build enough to service everything, but not throw it away.

Alison Smith:
So interesting and so for a big company, like SkinnyPop, you’re doing like 50% in that anticipation and maintaining your supply levels?

Ellen Wilson:
Yes. Four weeks is really like, I would say the sweet spot for us but another thing you have to think about is with a huge company, always having four weeks of supply is a lot of storage and just tons of pallets.

I think it’s like 50,000 pallets if I were to get up to four weeks of supply.

So, you have to also understand your budget for warehousing and make sure that you found a warehouse that you can hold all of that and then if I am getting up to four and we’re just busting at the scene, then that throws everything off where I can’t produce what I need to produce in a month of trying to fix that and trickle that down and like fix it. So it’s a giant puzzle.

Alison Smith:
Puzzling, every day.

Ellen Wilson:
Every day.

Alison Smith:
Cool. So, let’s talk a little bit about the acquisition. So, hot topic. So in late 2017, Hershey acquired Amplify Snack Brands, you were there you’ve been there for so long for a whopping $1.6 billion. $1.6 billion.

That is nuts and you were there and you are there now. How has your job changed from working for this small company where you were thinking, I was just going to be customer service, to now with this being owned by Hershey?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. The company itself has changed dramatically. I would say my job of planning is not that different because we’re still doing it in Excel and we still, for the most part, have the same manufacturers that we were using before.

So as far as my day to day, it hasn’t changed dramatically but our company as a whole has changed so much.

Ellen Wilson:
Before the acquisition, during the acquisition, right after the acquisition, we went through a ton of like ELT leaders. It was just like in and out, in and out, in and out and part of that comes with-

Karin Samelson:
What is ELT, Ellen?

Ellen Wilson:
Executive leadership team. So like the C-level people.

Karin Samelson:
Got you.

Ellen Wilson:
And, really like VPs and directors as well. So a lot of that is to be expected when you’re at first going public you just get a bunch of money and you move on.

That’s just what some people do and then with the acquisition that also happen. A lot of people had stock, they got paid out, they’re just like, “Okay, that’s all I needed from it.”

Ellen Wilson:
So, since Hershey has acquired us and we’ve really gotten into being with Hershey, it has been much more stable in that sense, which has been such a good thing for us.

We got some people that worked at Hershey for 15 to 20 years to come over and be in that team and it’s just provided us a lot of stability that things aren’t just drastically changing and our strategy year to year, isn’t just a fully different strategy because we have a new CEO or a new president or a new CFO.

Ellen Wilson:
So, I think that has been extremely helpful for us to just get that stability that we needed to go to the next level and we also just have a lot more resources to do things with, which is helpful.

We’ve got Hershey backing us for procurement and contracts and we can use that Hershey muscle to really help us get to that next level.

Alison Smith:
And you have chocolate in your office now?

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Three chocolate bars for life.

Ellen Wilson:
There was constant candy bowls which was a lot of fun.

Karin Samelson:
But you still maintain the small brand feel and all of the outward facing is the same?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. We definitely are part of Hershey, but we’re also still very much Amplify Snack Brands, so we do our own thing, we’re tied to them, we report to them and we use them when we need to, but it’s not something where everything we do is the same thing as Hershey. It’s nice to keep that.

Ellen Wilson:
We can do little parties with ourselves and we can do decision-making on our own, we don’t have to always call Hershey and be like, “Hey, can I do this?”

So, I think it’s been the best of both worlds where we get what we need from a big company, but it’s not… We’re not just like this big corporation now.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Wow. That sounds like a great acquisitions.

Ellen Wilson:
And Hershey, it’s a really good company. They do a ton of philanthropy, they’re really great people who award, really caring about the people, like when we were acquired Michelle Buck, our CEO came and had lunch with a group of us.

It’s one of those where it’s a large corporation, but it doesn’t feel like I’m just this little minion and a huge corporation. They’re good at people which is surprising sometimes.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Very cool. Well, so what are some maybe tools or some tips from you that smaller CPG brands who don’t have this full operations team, how can they get better at planning and supply chain?

Ellen Wilson:
I think I talked about it earlier, but Excel, Excel, Excel.

Karin Samelson:
Know Excel, okay.

Ellen Wilson:
Know Excel. There’s tons of resources to like take classes, learn more, dive deeper into it until… We’re still doing all of our planning out of Excel, that’s four brands, 15 commands just doing all of that in Excel and like fairly accurate.

There can be things that are helpful with the system, but for the most part it’s worked just fine and until last summer we were doing all of our forecasting out of Excel.

Ellen Wilson:
So, where a company that doesn’t want to invest in some kind of system early on you can do everything in Excel. So, just diving into that. As far as like other resources, I don’t know as much because I was lucky to come into an already established system.

So, we just had resources, fellow employees and coworkers and stuff so I don’t know of other resources but Excel.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, know Excel.

Karin Samelson:
And know your numbers and put them in Excel.

Ellen Wilson:
Exactly.

Alison Smith:
So, what’s common, since you see what’s happening with SkinnyPop and Pirate’s Booty and Oatmega and Paqui, what are some common issues that you see all of these brands running into and how can you avoid that in the operations?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So, one of them that even we have struggled with is being prepared for growth. Any small CPG, that’s your goal. You want to grow, you want to get bigger, you want to maybe be acquired someday or go public.

So, being able to hit go when you need to and have that plan already prepared, I think is something that we aren’t necessarily always ready for and it’s probably something that happens to a lot of companies faster than they think.

Ellen Wilson:
So, I would say having that plan when you don’t need it is so critical, it takes a really long time to set up manufacturers. It takes a really long time to set up a new warehouse.

Things take a lot of time so if you are starting that process, when you’re starting to see that bubble burst, you’re going to be screwed for a long time. So, just being prepared for that and being able to jump into it, I think is something that a lot of brands don’t do soon enough.

Ellen Wilson:
Another one is being strategic about who you are selling into. It’s so tempting to say like, “Oh, Walmart, Target, Club that’s where I want to be.” And, you do want to be there when you’re ready. Club is huge.

If you get into Costco and BJ’s or Sam’s your inventory and your demand is going to skyrocket and again, if you’re not prepared for that, you could ruin your relationship with those brands and not have another chance for a while.

Ellen Wilson:
Or Walmart and Target if you are a very high end unique niche product being in Target and Walmart might not be a good idea for you, at least in the beginning, because they’re going to get in there and no one’s going to buy your product and then it’s going to be like, fail.

Maybe you need to start with the natural channel and really focus on that versus just the allure of being in a big-box store. I think those two are probably the biggest that I’ve personally experienced.

Alison Smith:
That’s such a good note about the big-box store. We’ve heard the same from our friend Mark Nathan having the same sentiment.

Ellen Wilson:
We had a Kettle Chips brand that we scored a big deal with Walmart and that was like, it was going to be Walmart exclusive for a little bit and it just did not sell. And for me that makes sense.

You go to Walmart, you’re not going to try the new hot thing, you’re going for your staples and you’re going for good prices. So seeing a luxury potato chip brand for sometimes triple the price of another bag, I wouldn’t buy it, that’s not what I’m there for and we don’t have that brand anymore.

Ellen Wilson:
So, it really is a testament to you have to put it in, in the right places especially when you’re starting off.

And, once you have customers and you have people that know who you are, that’s when you can go in and you’re prepared for that but starting out at those big-box stores just can be a tough load sometimes.

And, they’re high maintenance. You have to be ready to pivot to what they want from you versus you being like, “This is what I want to sell.”

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. That’s so interesting because it’s just the allure of it is just like, “Yes, I want to be in Walmart.” [crosstalk 00:24:49] Everyone’s there, but it’s really interesting.

Ellen Wilson:
Whole new ball game once you’re there.

Karin Samelson:
Yeah. Earlier you talked about having waste from product, is there anything that you’re seeing that brands are able to do with that waste or any other new trends in your industry?

Ellen Wilson:
So, what we do is, every month we go through a distressed sales process so we take all of our inventory, we take the lock codes and the expiration dates, anything that we know is past that shippable window to customers, we sell it to the distress channel.

So, we have a few customers that just purely buy distressed product from us. So they’re fine with taking it a little short dated because it’s still good.

And things like, the stuff that you see at TJ Maxx, Grocery Outlet is our main on, I think they have actual stores and I don’t think they have them in Texas, but there’s like actual stories that just sell our distressed product, which [crosstalk 00:25:49] it’s not bad. It’s just not to be long shelf life that a Target, Kroger Tom Thumb would require in order to put on their shelves.

Ellen Wilson:
So, that’s what we do with a lot of it and then once it goes past, even the shelf life that a distressed customer will take it out, we will try to donate it to different companies that will take it, like Feed the Children is one that we send a lot of products to and then we’ve even donated to like pig farmers, they’ll take popcorn and some of our brands and just put it in their pig food.

Alison Smith:
That’s exactly what we did at vital farms.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. So, for the most part, we get through a lot of it. We do end up just destroying some of it. Stuff like our spicy chips, those aren’t going to go to children and those aren’t going to go to pigs.

So, sometimes we just don’t have a home for them, but we try like multiple steps to just get it to someone that will use it before we can trash it.

Karin Samelson:
Very cool. I always wondered like shopping at Marshall’s and TJ Max, like all the foods, they’re always like really delicious, I’m like, why are you here?

Ellen Wilson:
I know, that was such an eye opener for me because I thought the same thing. I was like, “Well, I’m not going to buy it, it’s bad.” But then I realized it’s not bad. It’s just like slightly shorter than-

Alison Smith:
[crosstalk 00:27:15]. Its’ distressed.

Ellen Wilson:
Perfectly good stuff.

Karin Samelson:
Any other trends happening with Amplify Snack Brands or just in operations?

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. Just with like SkinnyPop, well I guess SkinnyPop and Pirate’s Booty probably for the most part in the last couple of years, multi-packs have blown up. So the smaller 100 carrier, just smaller bags within a pouch or a box, those have blown up in the last few years.

And it makes sense, you have kids, you’re going to work, you just grab a bag instead of having to use your own plastic bag. But that is actually a lot harder functionally to make in a manufacturing plant versus just a big bag.

Because with a big bag, you’re sealing less often, you’re using less films, you’re just making one bag versus a ton, it’s less people because you’re not having to put a bag inside a bag and then seal that bag.

Ellen Wilson:
So, that has been something that we have had to adjust so dramatically because we have to figure out, how do we get our manufacturers to be able to make more?

How do we get it out faster? How do we get it out in 15 different packouts, 15 different flavors? Whereas before a lot of our manufacturing plants were set up for big bags, mainly big bags with a little small bags.

So, that’s been a trend that we are still to be honest, struggling to keep up with it because it’s new flavor, new variety, new packout, we have a 16 count, now we want a 30 count, so it’s just like constantly, that’s what everybody wants.

Ellen Wilson:
But what’s actually funny with COVID, the last year when everything started to shut down and everyone was rushing to the grocery stores and even news outlets were saying, “These are the items to buy.”

SkinnyPop was luckily one of them, but it was this giant flip back to big bags. So we were like, “We got it. All the small bags multi-packs got it, got it, got it.” And all of a sudden it was like, “Nope, nobody wants that anymore.

No one’s going to school, no buying of that. I want big bags again.”

Ellen Wilson:
So, there’s one item that we sell on Club stores that I make every single week no matter what. Always being produced at multiple facilities and I had to actually shut that down for like a month because just no one was buying them.

So, it’s just funny how life really does affect the market and you have to pay such close attention to buying habits and time of year, like summers are so hard for us because everyone’s purchasing back to school stuff and there’s back to school sales and all this stuff. Just watching the trends over the year, what’s happening and life really affects what’s happening in manufacturing.

Alison Smith:
Do you even know where your forecasters track those consumer trends other than just your sales?

Ellen Wilson:
So we have a whole department, it’s like five people, it’s not 50, but we have a department that…

Can’t think of what their titles are, they’re part of the sales team but they track consumer trends and they are giving that influence to our actual sales team just on what’s happening in competitors in the world.

Just the trends that are happening. So, there’s that piece and then we do have a pretty robust forecasting system now, so it reads seasonality, it reads our years of passive data and then that plus having weekly, sometimes biweekly conversations with our sales team, that’s where that information comes together for our forecast.

Karin Samelson:
Was anyone on your team able to foresee that? People are hunkered down or that was a total-

Ellen Wilson:
It caught us all by surprise. We were having literally daily meetings in the beginning at 5:00 PM to discuss what was happening and what we were going to do tomorrow.

And, especially with COVID, some of our plants just shut down because people got COVID and once someone in the plant is, they all had to be out because they’re working close to each other.

So, it took us all by surprise. And I think last March was the most sales we had ever had in the history of Amplify Snack Brands because everyone was just running to the grocery store to get stuff. So it was a wild couple of weeks there.

Alison Smith:
What a trip.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah.

Karin Samelson:
What a trip.

Alison Smith:
Okay. Ellen, well nuggets. So pretty much, if you want to really, really dig into supply chain operations, you got to be organized, you got to be good at communicating with a whole lot of people, you got to be flexible, right? It’s just like-

Ellen Wilson:
Absolutely.

Alison Smith:
Nothing is set in stone.

Ellen Wilson:
Nothing. And it’s funny because we’ll have calls about promos coming up, like with Costco, they have what they call MDMs. You get in the mailers once a month and when you are part of one of those mailers you have a coupon, your volume skyrocket.

So, it’s a huge deal to be a part of that but it’s also like you’re watching that like your little baby, just making sure the MDM goes well.

Ellen Wilson:
And so we’ll have meetings every week on how it’s going and I’ll just be like, “At this very moment in time it’s okay.” And people laugh at us at work because that’s a lot of what operations says is like, you’re asking me at 11:52 on a Tuesday. Yes, it’s okay. If you ask me in an hour, it might not be okay.

Alison Smith:
Oh my gosh.

Ellen Wilson:
It’s just one of those things that it changes minute to minute because if something happened and there’s like a fire at a plant and that goes down, you can be screwed for weeks on your inventory because it’s just gone so wild.

Alison Smith:
Wow. Sounds like a great time but for real, you’re making it happen. You are literally getting this product on the shelf for us purchase.

Ellen Wilson:
It was fun when my family or friends send me a photo of a bag or something I’m like, I made that for you.

Alison Smith:
Yeah, I made it.

Ellen Wilson:
It is very gratifying and especially we track our case file every single week. So if I get like a good case file the week prior, that is again very nerdy, very gratifying for me because I did that and I got it there and I succeeded at that puzzle I was trying to figure out.

Alison Smith:
Puzzle. I love it. Awesome, Ellen. Well, thanks for coming on and talking with us. Would you like to leave the audience with like a link or call to action or a final statement? Go but SkinnyPop.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah, go buy a SkinnyPop, go buy a Pirate’s Booty, go buy Paqui. Paqui is like very underrated I would say.

Karin Samelson:
I love Paqui.

Ellen Wilson:
It’s better for you. Dorito has all real clean ingredients. I think those people sleep on a lot, but they’re delicious.

Karin Samelson:
Go buy them, take a photo, send it to us, we’ll send it to Ellen, she’ll feel great about that week of operation.

Ellen Wilson:
Yeah. Exactly.

Alison Smith:
We did it. Awesome. Thanks Ellen.

Ellen Wilson:
Thanks.

Karin Samelson:
Thank you, Ellen.

Narrator:
UMAI Social Circle is a CPG agency driven podcast based out of Austin, Texas.

We’re excited to share more behind the scene insights, chats with industry leaders or whatever else we learn along the way. Follow us on Instagram @umaimarketing or check out our website, umaimarketing.com. Catch you back here soon.

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