If you don’t remember the moment when Nutella fundamentally changed the perception of what is allowed to go on toast, you haven’t tried it yet. The hazelnut and cocoa spread that seemed to appear out of nowhere to US consumers in the early 2010s was one of Europe’s best-kept secrets for decades.
Pietro Ferrero concocted a formula he would tinker with for years in his hometown of Alba, Italy, after attempting to return to a more normal life following World War II. Today, his still family-owned company boasts some of the most well-known brands in the world: Nutella, Tic Tac, Ferrero Rocher, Kinder, Butterfinger, Crunch, Baby Ruth, Fannie May, and more.
One might think the product sells itself. But veteran marketer and e-commerce expert Marie-Jeanne Matei and her team have doubled the online business in just two short years—and she’s pushing to triple it in just a few more.
It’s an incredible impact to make, especially since she joined the company just a few months before the COVID-19 lockdown and welcoming her first child into the world. Matei’s extensive track record of global necessitates investigation, but her own recipe isn’t nearly as guarded as the sweets she markets.
“I’m an immigrant who had to figure everything out from scratch,” Matei says simply. “I just had to learn to be agile, nimble, and to persevere. I worked really hard and created those growth opportunities for myself, but was also fortunate enough to have a few people along the way who believed in me and gave me a fighting chance.”
Matei spent the entirety of her early years in Romania, where she was born and raised and where she studied and accumulated her early marketing experience. Matei completed her MBA at Northeastern University and joined IBM through the company’s graduate internship program. She would spend six formative years at IBM, constantly moving into new roles and more senior positions.
“Almost everything I do now has its entry point at IBM,” Matei explains. “As a consultant, I had the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects with really great teams and experts in their field, which helped me develop a very solid foundation of cross-industry expertise.”
Matei collaborated with Fortune 500 companies to help them understand their opportunities and challenges in the digital space while developing strategies and digital capabilities to help achieve market growth and internal efficiencies.
Ferrero isn’t Matei’s first dip into the chocolate world, either. Prior to joining the company, she spent almost three years at the Hershey Company, where annual promotion again seemed to be a lock-in for the rising executive. It was an ideal time to join the company, as the new CEO was focused on utilizing digital capabilities to boost revenue. It would lay the groundwork for the extensive growth she would help drive at Ferrero.
At Ferrero, Matei doesn’t just help develop the business’s digital capabilities. She oversees the long-term e-commerce strategy and online business performance. At the same time, she’s built out a high-performing team of e-commerce experts that continues to grow.
“I’ve been here two years, and I’m the veteran of the team,” says Matei, who is currently vice president of e-commerce for the US market. “Everything is so new, and we have so much happening that it’s vital for me to make sure our team is connected to every part of the company.”
A Digital Shelf Framework
A significant contributor to Matei’s early success at Ferrero was her development of a very simple but comprehensive framework that identifies the key enablers of the digital shelf.
“I always go back to this ‘digital shelf framework’ to reground my team and the rest of the organization in what are the must have’s to drive sales online and guide our prioritization in terms of resources and time,” she says.
The framework is supported by three main pillars: portfolio, content, and paid media. Broadly speaking, the portfolio piece ensures the right pack is on hand for online shopping. Content is built to inform and inspire consumers to try the product. And paid media helps get eyes on the product wherever the consumer is in their online shopping journey.
It’s a gross generalization of an incredibly detailed and assembled road map that has been built out and implemented. But even in those details, Matei stresses the need for adaptability.
“I appreciate leadership supporting this initiative because it allows us to achieve aggressive goals with the autonomy to move quickly and with agility,” the VP explains. “We need to work cross-functionally while also being nimble. It’s a difficult balance, but my team has performed incredibly.”
That delicate balance isn’t new for Ferrero. Matei says the company nurtures all the benefits of a family-owned company while still executing ambitious growth strategies. Ferrero is now in its third generation of family leadership, and Matei is keenly aware of the love that the company’s brands command for its consumers across the world.
That family atmosphere is important for the VP, whose entire extended family still resides in Romania. Now, with a family of her own, Matei seems to understand even more the value of being somewhere that can feel like home.
“Packing a bag and moving halfway across the world isn’t for everyone,” Matei admits. “You need to feel that you are part of something bigger. That’s the culture here, and I’m excited to continue leveraging my experiences into new and exciting projects.”