The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
In this edition we meet Mondelez Manager World Travel Retail Marketing Irina Taranbanko, who shares her love of travel and marketing and looks at the challenges facing her in travel retail.
1. Tell us about Irina Tarabanko: Where were you born and raised?
I grew up in Moscow, Russia. It’s a vast and unpredictable country, and growing up there has definitely shaped me as a person. As rich as it is in terms of history and culture, from an economic and political standpoint you faced so much uncertainty that I think you come out of it a stronger character and able to adapt to any situation.
2. You studied at the Russian University of Trade and Economics; as a young student, what plans did you have for your future?
My love for marketing began at 14 years old, when I first picked up a copy of Marketing Management by Philip Kotler. It was then when I knew that I wanted to become a marketer, and I went on to choose my path accordingly.
I entered university in 1998, during Russia’s transition into a market economy. Marketing as a discipline was a relatively new concept in the ‘90s as Russia had just begun to open up to the outside world, so I suppose you could say I was part of the first wave of Russian marketers. I also saw it as a stepping stone for me to potentially work outside of Russia and see the world through a global perspective, by working in a global organisation. However, there were not particularly clearly defined career paths in Russia at that time so you really had to forge your own path.
3. Your first professional steps were with a company with an unusual name, and then you moved into the brewery business. What was your driving force and did you have a mentor?
My professional career started with a retail marketing agency called Tarantula, indeed a very intriguing name. It was an incredibly competitive and demanding environment, especially for someone just entering the professional world. It felt like I was working 24 hours a day.
I had the opportunity to work on some fantastic accounts but realised I really wanted to see more of this world, beyond our client briefs. I wanted to know what was behind the brief: what were the dynamics and consumer changes which were shaping our clients’ requirements?
As a result, I joined Tarantula’s biggest client, SAB Miller, the second-largest brewer in the world. I was in trade marketing and in charge of consumer promotions in Russia, but being in Russia this involved working across eight time zones so at times it felt like I was managing half of Europe!
Russia is also a very diverse market. Moscow is completely different to cities in the east of the country, so it was a pretty complex and challenging role.
I didn’t really have a mentor: SAB Miller as a whole was a great real-life marketing school for me. I spent a year doing trade marketing and five years managing a varied portfolio of brands, focusing on equity-building, something that’s so important in the beer industry. Those six years really gave me valuable exposure and an in-depth understanding of brand building and marketing.
4. From beer to bear…your first position with Mondelez had you in charge of Barni. Who or what is Barni and how did you help to make him even more famous?
Barni is a bear, specifically a soft cake in a cute bear shape, with a variety of tasty fillings inside. It’s a very strong kids’ brand in Russia and other EU countries such as Poland and Romania and was launched in the UK in 2013.
Compared to the beer market, which was more about brand equity and long-term strategy, this role was more innovation focused and about delivering double-digit growth every year. Later, on top of Barni, I took on two more brands, TUC and Estrella, effectively managing two major Mondelez platforms: Kids Wholesome and Savory. I then moved to the Regional Equity role, managing Jubilee and Belvita in EEMEA (Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa).
What I would say is that making the move “from beer to bear”, and onwards to other snacking brands, is not as challenging as some might think. In my opinion, a good marketer should be able to market any product. I’m not a beer drinker and I’m not a mother yet, so technically I’m not the target consumer for either of these products, but that didn’t stop me from living and breathing them while I was focused on them.
5. Last year you were appointed Mondelez International Marketing Manager World Travel Retail. Tell us about your role in the company’s future developments. How important are social media and digital in its marketing?
My role is to essentially build a winning strategy around our portfolio of brands. It’s a huge honour to work on brands such as Toblerone, Cadbury and Milka, which are not only iconic, global confectionery brands but also have such strong historical track-records in this channel.
Being new to travel retail means that I can approach some of the challenges and opportunities we face with a fresh pair of eyes. Hopefully there will be plenty of opportunities for me to apply my learnings from previous roles, including my experiences with Mondelez in domestic markets.
Social media and digital are huge opportunities for us to create meaningful interactions with potential shoppers in travel retail. I think the industry as a whole has accepted that it is playing catch-up with domestic retail, but is accepting this challenge wholeheartedly.
Certainly, at Mondelez we are taking digital extremely seriously, and I believe we are making great strides. In actual fact, we have run several campaigns to promote Toblerone via Facebook and have been recognised two years in a row by The Moodie Davitt Report in its annual digital awards. This year, our biggest focus is Toblerone Messages, and this new launch is being driven by a comprehensive digital activation strategy. I’m very excited by the potential of digital and truly believe it could be a game-changer.
6. I hear you love a challenge and don’t give in easily. How challenging have you found it moving to travel retail so far?
Being relatively new to travel retail I would say that getting to grips with the channel in general has been a major challenge.
Retail in any channel has common elements but there are quite clearly some challenges that are unique to travel retail. These challenges – namely footfall, conversion and spend per passenger – are relatively straightforward as concepts, but tackling them within the constraints of travel retail is a challenge. Space is limited, retailers are under pressure with rising rental costs, consumers are more willing than ever to shop online, and then you have the political and economic variables which affect passenger numbers and spend.
It’s definitely a tough market. However, I’m convinced that travel retail provides a uniquely powerful platform to showcase brands and drive growth.
7. And your funniest and/or most memorable moment?
I was fortunate enough to attend the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes shortly after joining the WTR team in Mondelez. I imagine my first taste of the show was similar to many others’ experiences: it’s vast, exciting, colourful, dynamic, exhausting and crazy! It’s amazing to see so many of the world’s greatest consumer brands from various product categories brought together under one roof.
That week provided me with incredible insight into the industry; there was so much to see, so much to learn from. What I found interesting was attending the top-to-top meetings with our key retail partners and getting insight into the unique dynamics of different locations around the world and how they shape conversations and strategies.
“Being new to travel retail means that I can approach some of the challenges and opportunities we face with a fresh pair of eyes”
With Mondelez WTR as the leading confectionery supplier in the channel, it’s clear that the retailers are willing to engage with us at a very strategic level. This gives us the opportunity to drive very real and actionable changes, which we hope can be the catalyst for growth.
8. Tell us about your favourite airport and confectionery store. Where and why?
Two stand out. The first would be the ‘So Chocolate’ concept at Singapore Changi Airport’s T2, run by Lagardère Travel Retail.
One of the strengths of confectionery is its ability to bring a splash of colour and fun to travel retail, and So Chocolate really harnesses this to draw shoppers in. The So Chocolate branding is eye-catching and bright, and then on a secondary level the major brands are highly visible within the store.
The category signposting is also excellent, aided by the use of four ‘universes’ to meet the needs of different customer segments: ‘World’s Favourites’ features leading international brands; Destination Products – Taste of Singapore is dedicated to travellers looking for local goods; Kids is dedicated to children and adult travellers looking for children’s confectionery; and Premium is dedicated to premium quality products.
Milan Malpensa’s walkthrough store in the Non-Schengen terminal is also impressive. It’s a testament to what can be done with the confectionery category when it’s given a significant amount of space, and the category is extremely well signposted, leveraging the power of iconic confectionery brands.
9. Travel is part and parcel of your professional life but it is also one of your main interests. Is there one place that you haven’t been but is top of your wish list?
I love to travel, whether it’s for business or for pleasure. I recently downloaded an App called ‘been’ which shows you how many of the world’s countries you’ve visited. It tells me that currently I’ve ticked off only 15%, so clearly I’ve got plenty of travelling to do!
Next on my list is definitely Latin America, which admittedly is a fairly vast area! If I had to narrow it down I would say that Argentina is the country I really want to visit most there.
10. What advice would you give to someone looking at starting their career in travel retail?
Don’t be afraid and just go for it! Travel retail is a great world to be operating in. It gives you a global view, multi-category experience, strong business acumen, and a deep understanding of the retail environment. I think it also rewards out-of-the-box thinking – an ability which is really valued in a world where it’s increasingly difficult for brands to stand out.
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED IN TEN EASY PIECES