How to Build a Career in Food Marketing and Product Innovation

Stephanie Jack’s parents met while working at Heinz, specifically when her mother was auditing her father’s department. She grew up visiting the company’s food processing facilities, impressed with her behind-the-scenes access to the creation of her favorite packaged goods. And one of her most vivid childhood memories is helping her dad urgently explode a packet of sweet and sour sauce. “That first experience of seeing how food is made was really formative for me – I was hooked,” she explains. “And I thought working on physical products like consumer packaged goods would allow me to combine my tactical and creative sides.”

Jack earned a business degree at Wake Forest University to prepare for furthering that career, then landed his first dream job at Frito-Lay (despite the interview bombardment). The genuine passion she exhibited for the industry convinced hiring managers that she would excel in the role of marketing analyst, and they were right. She spent nearly four years with the company.

After a stint in the beauty world, Jack missed working in food and found herself drawn to mission-driven brands, so she jumped at the chance to join the product marketing team and innovation from Bowery Farming, a company dedicated to vertical farming, a practice of growing crops in stacked layers, often in a controlled environment. Bowery grows its produce on tech-equipped indoor farms just outside major cities, so greens don’t have to travel far to get to the table.

Three and a half years after joining, Jack now oversees the development and optimization of Bowery’s product portfolio, which includes a variety of leafy greens and herbs. Here she shares her journey to this position, the aspects of her job she loves the most, and how vertical farming is changing the way we eat.

Eater: What is your job? What’s your favorite part about it?

Stephanie Jack: I’m the product marketing and innovation manager on the Bowery sales team. I lead the leafy greens and herbs portfolio, which is Bowery’s core business. My favorite part of my job is launching new products, from conception to execution. It suits the pop culture fanatic in me, as it’s part of my job to take the pulse of macro trends and consumer desires. I also enjoy working with and learning from all the people at Bowery who have diverse expertise and backgrounds. Every day, I work with a variety of teams at Bowery, from agricultural science to farm design, supply chain to farm operations.

What would surprise people in your work?

I never thought I could care so much about kale – but I really do! It might surprise people that some of my work takes place on the farm. I visit our R&D center in Kearny, New Jersey, about once a week. I remember the first time I walked into our production farm, lettuce buzzing all around me, greens everywhere, top to bottom, side to side. It was a bit overwhelming to see how technologically advanced it is. I still feel the same sense of wonder whenever I’m on the farms. Seeing our products come to life, become tangible, is always an amazing day for me. It might also surprise people that we have an in-house sensory panel at Bowery. It’s a very fun part of my job. We take a list of sensory attributes and rate products based on that; we think of aroma, texture, nasal pungency, etc. Sensory science is a real thing and I loved learning about it.

Did you go to culinary school or college?

I majored in business with a concentration in marketing at Wake Forest University. Wake is a liberal arts school, so in addition to diving deep into my major, I learned a lot about areas outside of my major. It paid big dividends in my career. For example, in my sociology classes, I learned a lot about how people interact and communicate. I still think about the lessons I learned in those courses when working cross-functionally in my current role at Bowery.

What would you have done differently in school or paid more attention to?

If I could go back and give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be this: invest more in relationships. Many of our professors had professional lives outside of academia, and they had so much to offer in preparing to build a career. I got to know my professors, but didn’t always go the extra mile to attend office hours and nurture relationships after graduation. Knowing what I know now, I would have been full of questions for my professors about different aspects of their professional experience, obstacles, and accomplishments.

What was your first job? What did that entail?

My very first job was organizing the shelves at TJ Maxx. After college, I worked as a marketing analyst at Frito-Lay in Dallas. I started on the Sunchips brand. It was a real crash course in consumer packaged goods marketing, with a wealth of experience in different areas of the business, from budget management to working with the food science team to development of new products. He provided real ground-level learning about what it means to be part of a team that lives and breathes a particular brand.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when you started in the industry?

I think the biggest challenge for me was wanting to make a big impact, but not knowing how. I needed to learn how to effectively manage and influence teams. I wanted to make an impact right away, but I had to learn to slow down and accumulate skills from those around me, like how to navigate a large company and how to deliver a successful presentation. I am especially grateful to all of the women leaders at Frito-Lay who took the time to mentor me, acted as confidants and allies, and who were always available for career advice.

What was the turning point that led you to where you are now?

After my work at Frito-Lay, I joined a beauty startup. There was so much overlap with food – food and beauty are two intimate categories and they mean a lot to the consumer. But while I loved the product innovation I was involved in, this job only reinforced my passion for food. First of all, I missed food and wanted to get back into the industry. Second, it became increasingly important for me to work for a company whose mission aligned with my personal values. Bowery is working to reinvent the future of food. We produce more food, with fewer resources. This commitment to securing food for the future really appealed to me. I wanted to work in a transformational company, especially a community-driven company like Bowery.

When was the first time you felt successful at Bowery?

I remember walking into Brooklyn Fare and seeing our Farmer’s Selection vegetables on the shelf. It was the first Bowery product that I played a significant role in shaping from ideation to execution. I identified certain food trends and developed a strategy to reach a hyper-culinary clientele. I worked with the agricultural scientists at Bowery to make these limited edition greens a reality. I stayed awake at night poring over the packaging details. And then one day I saw it on a shelf in the real world. It was a really satisfying moment for me, to see something that came from our minds, was grown locally on one of our vertical farms, and then, days after harvest, was on the shelf.

How has the pandemic affected your career?

To zoom out for a second, the pandemic has revealed many tension points in the diet. It really showed us the limits of the food supply and the weak spots in our food system. It gave me a renewed sense of pride to be part of a team working to try to solve some of these big problems.

Do you have or have you ever had a mentor in your field?

At Bowery, I was fortunate to have formal and informal mentors. Mentorship can be so valuable at every stage of your career, and I feel so lucky to have a job where I am surrounded by so many women in leadership positions. I learn from them every day. Just yesterday I had a meeting with our CCO Katie Seawell, my manager, and she helped me stand up for myself and hone my communication and leadership style. I’m sure I’m not the only woman who struggles with this, but I’ve had to force myself to disagree in a thoughtful way when I disagree, to step back and hold my ground. My mentors at Bowery modeled that for me and I learned a lot from them about how to be a conceptual thinker, how to think bigger.

How are you developing your industry?

Our products benefit the consumer. All of our products are pesticide-free, even our strawberries. (Strawberries are among the most pesticide-intensive of all field crops.) Our greens don’t need to be washed, which is both convenient and helps with shelf life. Bowery products are reliable: in freshness, flavor, yield and quality. All of this solves some very real problems for foodies.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Never underestimate the power of collaboration. Amazing things can happen when we put our minds together to solve a problem. And one of Bowery’s core values ​​really resonates with me: be kind to the core. This has an impact on my daily work.

What advice would you give to someone who wants your job?

My advice is to be curious and inquisitive. There’s so much to do to bring a product to market, to understand what consumers want and why they want it. If you stay curious, inspiration can come from unexpected places. Look outside your industry. I’m also going to echo what I said earlier about not being afraid to disagree. Thoughtfully disagree when appropriate, and stand your ground. Diversity of perspectives is essential to making innovative products.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Morgan Goldberg is a freelance writer based in New York.

Leave a Reply