For this month’s Hosts of Hawai‘i Spotlight, we had the chance to interview Kylie LaBarge, our Category Manager. Kylie is based remotely in Phoenix, Arizona and supports our Sales and Marketing teams with important data and insights that inform our business growth. Read all about her journey with Hawaiian Host Group in the Hosts of Hawai‘i Spotlight interview below.

How would you describe what a Category Manager does to someone who has never heard of it?

I’ll start by explaining that Category Management can mean different things to different companies. For example, for a retailer, a Category Manager would be the person responsible for a specific category – such as chips, wine, or really anything you can think of. That person would use data to decide, for example, what brands the retailer should bring into the category and what promotions they should run at what time, all to help the company’s bottom line.

On the other hand, Category Management from a brand’s perspective – which is what I do – refers to using data and insights to better position the brand(s) in a way that enables the company to enter more markets and retail spaces. Category Management can also include an element of pricing, in which the Manager would examine strategic pricing that would drive the highest margins for a company.

Can you explain your role and responsibilities as Category Manager at HHG?

Here at HHG, I am the Category Manager for three categories including ice cream, chocolate, and snack nuts. In my role, I primarily support our North American Sales team which is focused on growing Mauna Loa’s presence on the mainland.

For us, the macadamia nut is the star of our products. Yet, the reality on the mainland is that a lot of people have never tried one – which is something we are actively working on changing. And while that might seem like a big hurdle, it just means that it’s my job to help people understand our brands, the culture behind what we do, and of course, share the magic that can be found in a macadamia nut.

Kylie with Natalie Herr, Director of Sales – North America, attending an ice cream sampling event at the Sprouts Headquarters in June 2022.

In addition to using data to help our team best position Mauna Loa to retailers through “sales stories,” I work on promotional analyses as well as overall market analyses and trends. Staying on top of the market insights allows me to set our Sales and Marketing teams up for success.

On the Sales side, I help tell the story of who we are and how we focus on sharing the Spirit of Hawai‘i with the world through our products. Through the sales deck templates I create – that are specifically customized to each retailer – I help show potential partners that we are not just another nut company, and I love being part of that.

I’ve also been fortunate to work a lot with the Marketing department recently. As our brands look into future product innovation opportunities, the data I provide helps the team understand what new categories we should experiment in, and that we would have the highest chance for success in.

What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?

A typical day for me involves A LOT of data. I’ll pull different data sets from our data warehouse and manipulate the numbers to gain specific insights. Depending on the time of year, I might be creating the personalized sales stories PowerPoint decks for category review meetings with retailers ranging from Sprouts to Albertsons, and Kroger to Target. I’m also constantly doing behind-the-scenes category research to stay up to date on all the latest developments and best practices in Category Management as well as the broader consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry.

Kylie with Paulina Kim, Inside Sales Manager, and an oversized Island Macs box at our HHG headquarters.

A current project I’m working on is building a new promotional dashboard for the North American Sales team. This dashboard will allow us to keep track of the promotions we run nationwide so we can see what worked well and what we can improve on – specific to the location and time of year. Having this information at our fingertips will help us better plan future promotions and can even help with future forecasting.

What is your favorite part about your role?

I love the autonomy that I have in my role, and the opportunity to be creative. My boss, Amir Zahedi (Chief Sales Officer), is really good about trusting me with a task or project – deferring to my knowledge and expertise, and letting me run with it. Getting to be creative as a Category Manager allows me to learn so much by doing. To me, it’s important to always be learning so I really value this aspect of my job.

What is something in your remote office you can’t live without?

As a remote employee, I have a slight F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out) about the amazing culture and in-person activities our teams get to have in the HHG offices, like Lunch & Learns and the Office Olympics. But, I’ve done my best to make my home office special too, and I absolutely could not work without all of my plants! They bring me a sense of peace, company, and fresh air.

Kylie at her home office in Phoenix, with her “coworkers,” Oliver (dog) & Rory (cat).

The rest of my home office décor is actually quite tropical, too – I have flowers, succulent paintings, and a vibrant rug that brightens the room. And of course, I can’t forget to mention my “coworker” fur babies – Oliver, my dog, and Rory, my cat, who keep me company while I’m working.

What is on your wish list for your next five years here?

Personally, I hope to Island-hop next time I travel to Hawai‘i. So far, I have only visited O‘ahu, but I would love to visit our production facility on the Big Island, and see more of the other Neighbor Islands.

Professionally, I want to help come up with our next idea for a new product category. I want to see our product in store and be able to say, “I helped launch that!”

Kylie and her husband enjoying the sunset in Hawai’i.

HHG Spotlight Quick Takes

What gets you out of bed in the morning?  Firstly, my drive and determination to do something of value each day. Secondly, my family – both human and fur.

What is your biggest achievement to date – personal or professional?  Buying a house and starting a family! These have always been dreams of mine that are now coming true.

What’s your life motto?  “Everything happens for a reason.” Albeit cliché, we may not realize why something’s happening in the moment. But in reflection, we realize that it happened for a reason and might even serve as a lesson that we won’t forget.

What is your favorite way to spend a day off?  I love taking my dog on a walk in the neighborhood or near a lake, and then eating a good meal. It’s simple, but effective!

What is something you always do when you are in-person with the HHG Team? Grab lunch or connect 1:1 with team members to maintain a personal relationship and not just a professional one, as I believe it is important. Talking about things other than work occasionally allows for deeper interpersonal connections.

What is your favorite place in Hawai‘i?  I love Kailua on O‘ahu. The beaches are pristine, the houses are super cute, and it just makes me happy every time I get to visit.

What is your favorite Hawaiian Host, Mauna Loa, or KOHO product? Our Mauna Loa Hawaiian Sea Salt Macadamias are my favorite. They are so tasty, and our mac nuts speak for themselves.

Mahalo Kylie for all you do for our teams and to push HHG forward as a leading CPG company. We appreciate the passion you bring to work and your commitment to staying on top of your game in Category Management.

Are you interested in working with Kylie and the rest of our team at Hawaiian Host Group? Check out our Careers page to see if we have an opportunity for you.

Category: Culture + News