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Photography by Michelle Kanaar

Outside, the sun shone on a brilliant spring Saturday in Evanston. Crowds of alumni and current students descended on Kellogg to celebrate Reunion, and several other groups were having fun with activities ranging from the Kentucky Derby to the Floyd Mayweather – Manny Pacquiao boxing “fight of the century” — and yet I was looking out over a room packed with first-year students analyzing market trends and sales data.

Few things are compelling enough to attract a group of MBA candidates away from such temptations, but I was thrilled to be part of organizing such an event, one that I hope will go on to become a Kellogg tradition: the inaugural Kellogg Marketing Club’s CPG Internship Boot Camp, presented by Kraft Foods.

The inspiration for part of this event occurred to my Kellogg Marketing Club colleague, Dan Rubin-Wills ’15, and me early on in our summer internships, which coincidentally were at Kraft. Together, Dan and I are the co-vice presidents of career preparation for the club, so we are responsible for developing and running programs that help Kellogg students hone their resumes for marketing positions, prepare for interviews and dominate their internships. Thus, sitting together in a summer training for Nielsen — a research tool that is the backbone of marketing departments at CPG firms nationwide — Dan and I saw an opportunity to bring exposure for this critical knowledge to Kellogg’s students during the academic year, so that our interns could hit the ground running even faster (a summer internship is the quickest way to spend 10 weeks I have ever encountered).

Once we learned that Kraft had approached Kellogg about developing a workshop on internship preparedness, Dan and I jumped at the chance to facilitate what would become so much more than a Nielsen primer, but rather an intensive learning experience for Kellogg first-years about to embark on internships.

The Boot Camp kicked off with Christine Peggau, Kraft’s marketing director of growth channels, discussing the shifting venues where consumers are buying food today. When most people consider a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese or a bag of Planters Peanuts, they are probably mentally placing themselves in the middle of a grocery store, but increasingly shoppers are turning to different options for purchasing food. In fact, the fastest growing food channels are places you might not expect. Drug and dollar stores are seeing their share of shopper dollars grow 1.0% and 1.6% respectively, and club stores like Costco have grown share by 5.0% since 2000.

Firms that want to win in this changing environment need to play by a different set of rules. For one thing, shoppers go to different channels for different buying missions that each require a different marketing approach. Club stores are perhaps the most foreign environment of all, with their limited assortments and massive pallets of merchandise, but manufacturers ignore this opportunity at their peril. Oreo, for example, redesigned its packaging to stand out on the club sales floor, and lifted its sales by an incredible 22%.

After Christine’s talk, we heard from Amy Liever ’15, one of Dan’s and my associates at Kraft last summer, who shared her secrets on storytelling, an art that is especially important for persuasive marketing presentations. I had the privilege of practicing with Amy as we prepared for our high-stakes final presentations at Kraft, and she set the bar high (I also might say that she cheated a little by bringing her audience French fries as a demonstration for her presentation, but I digress).

Next, experts from Nielsen took us through the guts of how the Answers on Demand tool is used to research sales trends and performance questions and make critical business decisions. Nielsen is a highly technical subject, and I didn’t expect anyone in the room to master it on the first try, but Dan and I firmly believe that planting the seed early will translate into a smoother summer transition.

Finally, Aubrey Ellis from Kraft gave us an overview of the millennial consumer. Millennials are quickly rising into prominence as one of the most powerful buyer groups in the US, and their preferences are a marked departure from generations before them. Millennials are a values- and authenticity-driven cohort who expect a connection with what they buy, and marketers are working full-throttle to ensure their offerings can deliver.

In fact, every student in the room was a millennial, but the value of the exercise lay in learning how to understand who is buying your product — and also learning to be careful not to project your own preferences onto your consumer in spite of how similar you may think you are (Or, it’s about remembering that, in Professor Julie Hennessy’s words, “You’re weird.”).

If this sounds like a lot of material, it definitely was, but then again, the CPG marketplace isn’t going to get less complex any time soon. For Dan and me, it was incredibly rewarding to see the last year of work recruiting first-year attendees and refining agenda topics with Kraft pay off in such a well-attended and information-packed event. We are hoping this event will continue in years to come, and even grow to include industries beyond CPG. For now, though, we wish our classmates good luck as they prepare to embark on their summer internships.

Matthew Benson is a second-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year Program. Prior to Kellogg, Matt worked in finance at Target Corporation in Minneapolis. After graduating, he is looking forward to returning to brand management at Kraft Foods, including diving back into the Nielsen Answers on Demand tool.