SEA ISLAND, GA — Christine Cochran compares joining SNAC International to the sensation of hopping on a moving treadmill.
“You jump on, and you quickly find your pace and learn the contours of the organization all while moving forward,” said Ms. Cochran, who became president and chief executive officer of SNAC in April.
In a short time, she’s worked with the SNAC team on its annual legislative summit, a Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management marketing session, a Women in Snacks (WinS) session and preparing for the Executive Leadership Forum, which is being held Sept. 11-13 in Sea Island, Ga.
Previously, Ms. Cochran served as executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) since 2012 and president of the Commodity Markets Council. A 1998 graduate of the University of Missouri, Columbia, with a degree in agricultural economics, she holds a juris doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC.
“Beyond the day-to-day activities, the priority has been to meet the staff and learn all of the wonderful things they bring to the organization and to learn their strengths and their opportunities for growth,” she said.
Ms. Cochran shared her insights with Baking & Snack magazine on the snack industry and her new position at SNAC International.
How would you describe the state of the snack industry?
The industry is strong. The category is thriving. It’s innovative. It’s exciting and has moxie, and SNAC needs to reflect that. We need to have moxie. We need to innovate and thrive.
Moxie? That’s an interesting term.
It’s such a fun word. When I say moxie, I don’t mean in terms of bravado, but in terms of confidence, character and determination about the value the organization brings to the industry. It’s also a reflection of the industry. We see companies, big and small, in the food space organizing around snacking. It is a conversation right now. Our logo is snacking, nutrition and convenience. Those are the conversations that are happening in almost every food company right now. As an organization, we need to manifest our own logo. One of the quiet strengths that SNAC members value is that benchmark. You’ll hear at SNAC a lot about networking, which often means business development. When you’re inside SNAC, you realize this is a network of impactful companies. The information sharing and benchmarking that happens inside the network is valuable in and of itself. That’s something we need to broadcast.
What are the main challenges for the industry?
The biggest challenge that snack producers face today is keeping up with the consumer. While we are innovating both in terms of convenience, flavor, nutrition and packaging, the consumer is always moving faster than we are.
How does SNAC strengthen the industry?
SNAC has three solid pillars of activity that serve the membership: education, networking and advocacy. We work hard to ensure we are delivering value across all the pillars. We employ a test-and-learn approach to ensure the value is real and in line with what our members need. For example, we offer programming in partnership with organizations like the Kellogg School of Management and Georgetown University, which receive very high marks from our membership. But we don’t take that success for granted. This spring, we launched an education task force that’s diving into our offerings and developing new offerings as well as changes to our existing ones. To improve our networking opportunities and deliver commercial value, we launched SNX this spring. For advocacy, we conducted a member survey to match our priorities with those of our members and to focus on identifying opportunities for greater leadership. That is SNAC’s superpower — the routine delivery of those top-notch services and a dedication to continued examination of those services so continue to deliver routine excellence.
What have you learned about SNAC that you didn’t know before joining the association?
I’ve learned so much. The one that has left a deep impression is the personality of SNAC. When they gather collectively, there is an energy and enthusiasm that creates a unique and fun personality. That personality reflects at a cocktail reception, an education session or a full meeting. Everyone wants to be together and do good work. Everyone has moxie.
What are the best kept secrets about SNAC?
There are several. The WinS initiative is valued by members and largely unknown across the industry. We work hard to foster a pipeline of female leadership for the snacking industry. Another one that doesn’t get recognition is the information that we share with our members. With a SNAC membership, you get access to IRI monthly reporting data. The benchmarking and information sharing at SNAC is one of our quiet secrets. Once you’re in the network, it’s something people really value. Another that’s overlooked is a service we provide called “Ask SNAC.” Any time members have a question, they’re able to anonymously submit it to SNAC, and we can send it across our network. If SNAC doesn’t have the information, there is a larger network for our members to get their answer.
What experience from GFF can you bring to SNAC?
There are two: communications and consensus building. SNAC has a lot of opportunity to build growth around communications. SNAC’s team is very focused and agile, but we need to communicate better to not only our members but to the broader industry what we do so they can understand the value of SNAC. You will see our communications improve, sharpen and expand. On consensus building, at GFF, one of our biggest challenges was taking complicated science and converting it into consumer messages. Building that scientific consensus was the challenge. At SNAC, we can take those consensus building skills around hard topics and crystalizing those messages so they can be powerful advocacy for the organization.
How is your role at SNAC different from GFF?
It’s different in a few ways despite food being the primary animator for both groups. At GFF, the work focused on a staple product. At SNAC, the focus is broader. We represent a portfolio that is fun, tasty and has strong cultural ties. At GFF, we focused exclusively on nutrition science. At SNAC, we work to serve our members across their entire operations, not just nutrition and marketing.
What are your goals for 2023?
In an era of strong competition, SNAC must distinguish itself as an organization capable of winning over the hearts and minds of its members and potential members. We are an impactful network of the world’s largest snacking companies. In 2023, you will see SNAC become more visible as a voice for the industry. We will sharpen our focus on government affairs, including growing our PAC. And you will see our education and networking offerings evolve to keep pace with our member’s expectations. I am very excited for 2023, but also 2024 and beyond.