2012 Power 50: No. 42 John P. Bilbrey

Kids would probably rather get Hershey’s Kisses than knowledge-based insights in their goodie bags this Halloween, but the latter is the real treat that The Hershey Co. is offering to retailers.

 “We’ve become a knowledge company,” said John P. Bilbrey, now one year into his tenure as president and chief executive officer of the Hershey, Pa.-based chocolate, candy and refreshment products company. “By focusing on building our intellectual capital, we have created a competitive advantage that is a key to our success.”

The company’s consumer-driven business approach, which it adopted in 2008 and is reflected in its Insights Driven Performance model, or IDP, has helped Hershey “outpace category and channel growth,” Bilbrey said, and deliver what he described as top-tier financial results, despite the difficult economic headwinds.

“Our approach has worked for driving consumer sales and driving the category,” Bilbrey said, noting that IDP also will be important to growing Hershey’s business internationally.

The process involves joint business planning with large retail customers and then acting on those long-term strategic plans. It has been used successfully in the drug channel and now is being implemented with supermarket operators.

In a recent meeting with investors, Hershey’s outlined a strategy to reach $10 billion in sales by 2017, up from about $6 billion last year. In the first quarter of this year, sales were up 10.7%, to $1.73 billion.

On tap this year for the retailer are new product launches such as Jolly Rancher Crunch ’N Chew, Rolo Minis and Ice Breakers Duos, along with the new reduced-fat Hershey’s Simple Pleasures. Promotions include initiatives promoting S’mores into the fall tailgating season, some Twizzlers summer initiatives, and a summer Reese’s and Coca-Cola promotion.

Hershey is also targeting high-growth international markets, Bilbrey explained, in addition to expanding in North America. The company has created a “sales center of excellence” to bolster its efforts to expand overseas. The company is focusing on five key global brands to drive international expansion for the next five years: Hershey’s, Reese’s, Kisses, Jolly Rancher and Icebreakers.

“To drive growth in North America and abroad, we’ll focus on building our brands, portfolio and leveraging the great talent and knowledge we have throughout our company,” Bilbrey told SN.

“At the end of the day, to win, we must have a passionate workforce and embed a ‘culture of winning’ so that we will continue to operate with excellence. And as we grow globally, we will continue our deep commitment to corporate social responsibility, which is part of our heritage and company values.”