Living in Zambia as a child, Kenzie Caron had the unique perspective of seeing Partners in Food Solutions (PFS) grow from an idea to the unique and dynamic organization it has now become in the fight against food insecurity. Yes, Kenzie’s father is PFS Co-Founder Jeff Dykstra, who developed the idea for PFS 15 years ago with General Mills. It’s not at all surprising that Kenzie is now a General Mills employee and a PFS volunteer. Her first project supported Cado Industries, a fruit and vegetable processing company in Ethiopia, to develop a marketing strategy for their portfolio of products. Cado Industries was founded in 2017 by Birhane Gebiresilassie, to mainly produce jams from locally grown fruits such as strawberries, mangoes, and papayas. Birhane was interested in diversifying Cado’s product portfolio to include other products such as fruit juices and syrups, candied and canned fruit, tomato paste and ketchup. He reached out to PFS requesting support for a marketing strategy not only for their existing fruit jam, but for their expanded product range.
As a senior brand experience planner at General Mills, Kenzie brings brands to life for consumers in her day to day work. She and a fellow volunteer from the J.M. Smucker Company worked to develop a holistic marketing playbook for Cado. They first started out with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, identifying the company’s areas of opportunity and weakness. They also evaluated the company’s target base as well as their competitors. All of this fed into the final strategic plan they laid out for Cado.
Kenzie said working on this project was very fulfilling. She not only had the chance to be connected to people from across the world, but also learned a lot, especially from the senior team member from Smucker with whom she collaborated. It was also an eye opening experience for her, deepening her sense of empathy for entrepreneurs like Birhane, who have overcome tremendous difficulties to succeed. “At the time of the project, Ethiopia was in the middle of a civil war and our client had to deal with the challenge of running a business in a war,” she said. “I learned a lot about compassion and empathy working with him, and my perspective was definitely broadened.”
After implementing the recommendations of the marketing strategy, CADO Industries’ sales tripled in comparison to the previous year. They also digitized their operations, developing an online presence which helped multiply their customer base. Birhane is grateful for the support offered to him. “Kenzie and her fellow volunteers were very helpful, humble and professional. They owned the project from end to end and have helped make my business a success!” For Kenzie, seeing Birhane’s responsiveness and acceptance, and implementation of their recommendations so quickly was very rewarding. It also showed her that as different as their worlds are, universal marketing truths still apply.
Kenzie’s advice to others interested in volunteering? “Just do it! As long as there are a couple of things in the description of the project that interest you and you have familiarity with, the rest will fall into place. You could also be partnered with others who may fill those gaps.”