Ep. 5: Category and Career Reinvention with Emily Fultz of the Humble Co

On this episode, Keith is joined by Emily Fultz, VP Marketing and Sustainability, North America, at the Humble Co.

With more than 25 years of experience in consumer goods, Emily has worked with renowned companies like Starbucks, Campbell Soup, and Clorox in roles spanning shopper marketing, category management, and sales. From marketing and sales to overseeing sustainability in an innovative company, Emily’s story is a testament to reinvention and purpose-driven leadership.

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Keith Anderson: Welcome to Decarbonizing Commerce, where we explore what’s new, interesting, and actionable at the intersection of climate innovation and commerce. I’m your host, Keith Anderson, and together we’ll meet entrepreneurs and innovators reinventing retail, e commerce, and consumer products through the lenses of low carbon and commercial viability.

Welcome to the Decarbonizing Commerce Podcast. I’m your host, Keith Anderson. And today’s guest is Emily Fultz, Vice President, Marketing and Sustainability, North America for the Humble Company, an oral care brand that was the creator, one of the first, if not the first creator of bamboo toothbrushes, really trying to reinvent the oral care category in some interesting ways.

And before Emily was at the Humble Company, she has a career in all kinds of functional roles. In areas like omni channel and category management and shopper marketing and brand management at some of the biggest names in the CPG industry, Henkel, Campbell’s, and most recently at Clorox. So I thought it was really interesting that Emily has built a career and followed a trajectory from big CPGs to an emerging brand and has evolved her career from conventional commercial functional roles to a leadership role at Humble that includes some traditional functions, but is also overseeing sustainability and was really eager to meet her and learn more about how she made that jump in her career and how she’s approaching her work at the Humble Company.

So, let’s meet Emily Fultz of the Humble Company.

Emily, it’s great to be with you. Thanks so much for joining the show.

Emily Fultz: Thank you for including me, Keith. I’ve been looking forward to it.

Keith Anderson: So have I, and you are Vice President Marketing and Sustainability at the Humble Company. Can you tell us more about what you do and how you came to do that at The Humble Company?

Emily Fultz: Sure, sure. So I am the, really the leader of this function and it is a pretty small team in North America. We were founded in Sweden by a former dentist that saw the need for more environmental solutions to waste in oceans and a way that he could impact that was through the invention and launch of the bamboo toothbrush.

And so I had spent about 13 years working for Clorox in different roles and functions. And I found that this would be a kind of a neat next step for me to take a function and expand it into sustainability for another organization.

Keith Anderson: I think I, I mentioned this to you when we were first speaking, but as a former consultant, I can’t resist four box frameworks. And when I, when I looked at your background, I sort of pictured, you know, on one axis, commercial experience leading up into sustainability and on the other axis, big CPG companies, you, you named Clorox, but you have experience at several other big CPG companies

Emily Fultz: Yes.

Keith Anderson: and then eventually joining an emerging brand.

And so to me, it’s really interesting and I hope we get a chance to go into a little detail on some of the comparisons and the contrast between working in purely commercial roles and then taking on work that involves sustainability and what’s similar and different about working inside of a big incumbent CPG versus a newer emerging player.

Emily Fultz: Yes, I think, it boils down to kind of where you start your career is often where you end up. I started out my career, coming out of undergraduate from Santa Clara University and I moved overseas and I worked as an English teacher in Italy. And I’ve just fell in love with Western Europe, and I knew I wanted to have an opportunity to work for a European company someday as well.

So, I came back from that experience and I went back and I got my master’s in business at Thunderbird, which is an international business school in Arizona and came out of that experience and coming out, you know, young with an MBA, very ambitious. I went for an Italian company that imported Italian foods into the U. S. marketplace, and I built that small brand. And what I realized in that experience was I had a lot of curiosity and love for marketing, but I didn’t have a lot of the traditional training that I felt I needed to be a successor in my career with. So that’s when I went to work for Starbucks Ice Cream, and that was based in Oakland, California, and it was in the Dreyer’s headquarters.

And I had the opportunity to build a brand from scratch. And I worked with some great marketers there where I did everything from package design to portfolio development, to copywriting, to national sampling. And I was making a lot of reporting really to our joint venture at the time, which was with Starbucks and Dreyers.

And I realized that when I was doing this reporting, I really wanted to have more of an analytics understanding. So, I decided my next career step would go to work for IRI, and I worked for them, now Circana. But IRI at the time, and I was a vendor services manager at the Safeway headquarters, where I partnered with large CPG brands on their analytics and positioning for sale at Safeway.

And from there, I had a great exposure to all different types of analytical suites. And category management, and then Campbell Soup tapped me on the shoulder, and they said we’d like to have you come work for us. And so Campbell Soup, I spent about five years there, and mainly in the category management function.

I worked on the Prego business and then the Soup business. And then because of my brand background, they tapped me on the shoulder when it was time to start shopper marketing. They had not been in this function yet. And so I had the chance, along with three other people, to create that function at Campbell Soup.

And I fell in love with it. I loved the opportunity to bring a brand to life with retailers. And to kind of put some of that creative focus at shelf and in store. So I worked for them for a long time. I loved it. And then my family and I, we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I reside. And I decided that I really wanted to continue in shopper marketing.

And so a couple, a little while after I moved to Charlotte, I went to work for Clorox and at Clorox, I was able to really get a touch on multiple channels of trade. I worked with home hardware. I worked with The Dollar Channel. I worked with Target. Really across all the brands at Clorox, and I had a chance to really work with teams of people.

And so I really feel that this industry is this opportunity to partner across functions to really build a brand. And so I had a chance to do that with my peers and with those retailers. And one of my accounts, was Lowe’s Home Hardware. And at the time, they were really getting into e commerce in a big way.

And I had a chance to really push the organization and myself to learn in this burgeoning space. And so really learning about the digital shelf and new technologies and influencing the retailer to also evolve, you know, even further in this space. And so, with that, after really being, I think we had great success with that account.

 I was asked to join a part of the Clorox organization, which was the Omni Channel, category leadership program. And so I worked with an industry leader, Anne Zabowski. And our team was small, but, but mighty, and we were able to coach our existing retailer sales organization across the field on how to win with e commerce and Omni Channel.

So that was a fantastic field. I absolutely loved it. The exposure, the learning and the application. And so it felt at that point. There was an opportunity for me to go and kind of bring those learnings and experiences and make it a little bit broader than one function. And so I’ve had that opportunity at the Humble Co. I lead both the marketing function as well as our, obviously, our sustainability area for North America. And I also guide our e commerce and insights. It’s again, it’s a lean team, so I couldn’t do it alone. I have a fantastic team of people with small levels of experience, to my CEO, Rich Hewton, who has had a grand tenure, really, within consumer packaged goods that I learn from every day.

Keith Anderson: It’s so interesting to me, listening to some of the different functions and disciplines that you’ve worked within

Emily Fultz: Mm hmm.

Keith Anderson: and I recall in the early days of shopper marketing when it was, you know, the first moment of truth was introduced to the industry as a concept and many CPG brands got a much deeper appreciation for what it meant to influence and win at the physical shelf.

Emily Fultz: hmm.

Keith Anderson: I sort of watched and I guess our paths actually intersected during this next phase when digital and omni channel became such a big part of where growth in the industry was being sourced.

Emily Fultz: Mm hmm.

Keith Anderson: And to your point about cross functional, it changed. So much of the work that I think in many companies for many reasons is siloed, but it’s, it’s hard as time goes on to succeed at building a brand or winning at the digital shelf or any of these important disciplines if you’re working in a vacu and, and I think it’s So interesting and important to have people who have not only worked with the different teams, but, have worn those hats and can empathize and relate to what somebody who’s working on packaging or working on what’s our portfolio strategy for the next three years, any of those considerations, while they’re also trying to keep up with whatever the fastest moving New trend is, and that sort of leads us to sustainability because candidly, I don’t think it has quite hit the way that these other, disciplines did in, in their moments of peak interest, but I think the next three years are going to move very quickly and yeah.

And so I, I think, you know, it’s, it’s going to be very useful in your work and to your company, I’m sure, to have been through similar. Transitions when a new discipline with new considerations about consumers and customers is suddenly changing the work in all these conventional areas.

Emily Fultz: Yeah, and I think sustainability is one of these terms that is thrown out pretty loosely within organizations. And I feel like it’s always, there’s, you know, there’s definitions of sustainability, and then there’s ways to enact sustainable action within your organization. And so I think traditionally we have, you know, consumer packaged goods companies are Short term profit motive and sometimes that is not aligned with sustainability.

And so creating a platform to get reaction from your organization in a meaningful way. I think that the B Cert, that is, you know, becoming more prevalent across a lot of the natural channel. In oral care, I see that, you know, several companies are now certified B corporations and so that is that’s my goal, is that we are in that space over the next three to five years.

Maybe sooner. But I do feel that that understanding of there’s not just one way to be sustainable. It’s our actions every day. It’s how we treat our employees, how we pay our employees. It’s also how we, address Our packaging and our product and how we get that from distribution all the way back to the manufacturing cycle.

And so I think what we’re going to see in the next 3 to 5 years is a hyper focus there. I think from everything we’re hearing about the UN, right, like the UN climate meetings where Us and China were not invited to the table ’cause we haven’t made enough action in that space. So I seek that. I see that as kind of a challenge for all of us in consumer packaged goods to have a seat at that table moving forward.

I think that we have, a lot of passion in this space. And a lot of creativity. I think the United States, we are full of the most creative people on earth. So I feel like we have the talent and the capability to get there. You know, how can we, you know, put pressure on our own internal systems to shop, go local, right?

Local is the best. So trying to keep product off the seas when we can. How can we use less virgin plastic in our products? I think PCR, Post Consumable Recycled Goods of plastic in goods is a step in the right direction, not always all the way to bright. I see a lot of opportunity in protein based packaging.

That’s going to come our way. And this is a All in the best interest of Mother Nature. So I think that the more we can evolve our companies and the people that work for them to be aware in this space is really important too. It can’t just be one sustainable champion in your organization. It needs to be a part of your fabric.

So one area that we’ve made action on as a company, really globally is I’ve just led with my, my partners at the Humble Co, a new, mission and core vision statement work that’s really grounded in people and planet first, humbly, is where we’re leaning towards. We haven’t final, we haven’t finalized the mission statement, but I think that as long as our core values are aligned to get there, it’s taking steps in that direction.

But it needs to be the fabric of the, I think the area of the organization that you work in.

Keith Anderson: Well, you’ve touched on a couple of, I think, common challenges, one of which is the incentive models aren’t always aligned between essentially a company’s sort of core purpose, which is often to make a profit.

Emily Fultz: Yes.

Keith Anderson: And I think secondly the importance of linking some of the vision and the mission to everyday action and I know you’re in the midst of this work. It’s not, it’s not done. It’s probably never done, but can you tell us more about what is so appealing about the B Corp designation, what kind of commitments and changes you think that’s going to bring to an organization like yours and how do you think as you refine and ratify this new vision and mission. How are you going to link that to some of these everyday decisions and functions across the company?

Emily Fultz: Well, I think to motivate change, we do need to address, you know, sales and profit. And so

 I think one of the areas that I see evolving too is that, you know, Gen Z is coming right on the heels of really addressing a lot more of the wallet of the American shopper. And they are voting towards the environment.

So I think, you know, as we think about short term versus long term viability for brands, I think it only makes sense to make steps in the right direction. I think, you know, B Corp is kind of the most broadly understood certification, globally. And so what I’m excited about, as I enter into this work with my team, is it’s not just about knowing what your carbon footprint is.

 There’s a lot more to it than that. So it’s again, how we treat our employees, 360 reviews, making sure that there is not such a large wage disparity across an organization. So these are all elements of getting the certification.

And again, I haven’t initiated the work yet within, my Humble Co. yet. I’m still in the evaluation framework. So maybe next year when I come back and speak, Keith, I can talk a little bit more about our experience.

Keith Anderson:

Fair enough. , and, and I think it’s important to emphasize, How holistic some of those considerations are and I think part of the reason it’s appealing to so many companies is it does force you to think about the relationship between. These different elements of building a company and operating a company through these lenses of so many important factors about how are we going to operate fairly and equitably and, you know, play the long game.

And I’m reminded again, as you mentioned, Gen Z. In the early days of the growth of e commerce and online grocery, it was a very similar conversation about millenials.

Emily Fultz: Hmm.

Keith Anderson: That is, you know, I helped produce analyses that when you charted the data would show, okay, here’s the breakdown of income and consumption by cohort today.

And here’s the projection of when they’re going to reach their peak consumption years, that is, they’re going to get married, they’re going to form households, they’re going to buy pets, they’re going to have kids, and those are among the bigger drivers of expanded consumption, and in those days, we were emphasizing that the way they were shopping and buying differently was mediated by technology. They, they were digitally native, they were buying through a screen, and the whole transformation discussion was about to your earlier point about thinking beyond the next quarter, how do we walk that tightrope between the way that we’ve always done things while acknowledging things are going to be different in 3, 5, 10 years? And it may seem slow for a long time, and then it’s going to seem sudden as that rotation happens, and now I see the same sort of thing happening both with Gen Z, and others. I mean, not unlike what happened with digital as time went on. There certainly are the early adopters who care the most and change their behavior more dramatically and earlier, but over time you sort of see the flywheel effect of, well, as their desires are met with more selection and more choices in the marketplace, suddenly more people are exposed and start making similar choices.

And before you know it, things look really different. you’ve worked for Some of the largest brands in the industry, you’re working for, an emerging brand now. What are some of the really key distinctions, both in a general sense and then in a sustainability sense?

Emily Fultz: Well, my ability to impact on a mega scale is diminished, so but I do feel that on a smaller scale to start building a brand really in the North America market is very rewarding. So I think, you know, beyond budget, differences. There is this opportunity to engage in a different way than I’ve ever experienced before.

Again, Keith, you know, I came from very functional background, so category management, brand, omni channel, e commerce, and this role that I’m in now is really more broad scoped, where I have the chance to guide multiple functions at once. And so I think what I’ve realized through this experience is that it’s really rewarding owning multiple functions and especially I think in sustainability to make sure that we’re being true across the different elements of our business and talking more synchronously on our mission. So I think that’s very rewarding. Also, I’m at a stage in my career where I have a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience.

I don’t say that to be. overly confident. I say that because I work with this team of young people that truly want to learn and they are asking for my information and working with it and I see their growth and there’s a certain amount of reward in that. Just to see that evolve and see their skill sets grow. So I think that that’s a real tangible. Also, you know, I’ve seen tremendous growth on our brand. So it’s not just doing good work with good people and having fun. It’s also I’m seeing the numbers. And so when I came in to the organization we didn’t yet have a consumer data. And so I’ve done a small purchase, with spins, which is really focused on the natural channel.

And the natural channel is where we’ve really focused in most of our retail brick and mortar focus, because that’s where our shoppers are. They’re the ones that are looking for a bamboo toothbrush or for, you know, a floss pick that is plant based. And so post consumer recycled product. So that’s been a wonderfully rewarding thing to see and start to track our progress. And so, you know, we have also now kind of, now that we’ve have this solid foundation in the natural channel, we are starting to see a really great traction within the NPL, which is the natural products. Area of food as well as MULO, which means that those shoppers aren’t just going to the natural food stores. They’re also buying groceries and they’re seeing our brand, and it resonates with them from a value based, place. And so that’s been really fun is also. It’s freeing in the way of, I think, traditional large CPG brands. They have a very defined brand communication platform, and where we have brand guidelines, we also have this ability to flex our creative and identify more with, you know, raw content with our, within our social media channels. And that’s been super fun too, where we are able to lay out our annual plan and really focus in on, you know, key events that make sense for us. You know, we are a natural Swedish oral care company. And so we, you know, we can celebrate different holidays, that are meaningful for our shoppers.

And we can participate in different ways.

Keith Anderson: Are there any favorite holidays that we should all be celebrating?

Emily Fultz: You should all be celebrating summer solstice, for sure. That is a super fun time of year, very festive and rewarding. And I also think there is this kind of clean, simplistic, Swedish vibe that our brand has that I think resonates with, you know, the whole kind of cleaning out your house, cleaning out your mind, being more mindful in your approach to life, which I’m really excited to play with more, you know, moving forward.

Keith Anderson: I can tell you My neighborhood throws many block parties, but one of my favorites is the summer solstice

Emily Fultz: Oh yeah?

Keith Anderson: block party. So, I wasn’t sure where you were going to take the, you know, different holiday celebrations, but I’m happy that that’s one that I have been celebrating for the last few years.

Emily Fultz: Good job.

Keith Anderson: You mentioned your background comes from highly functional roles, and I think it’s super interesting to hear you talk about now at this stage of your career in the company and the role that you’re in with oversight of several different functions at once. One of which is sustainability. I think when I tell people what I’m doing and, you know, sustainability or climate comes up, the natural first thought is it’s all about switching your sources of energy or changing how you heat and cool the production facilities.

And truthfully, those are all immense parts of it and they’re a big deal, but where I see so much potential and I think, you know, whether it’s from regulations, as you mentioned, or, competition among the retailers and brands, I think there’s going to be a lot of business model transformation, too. And so, in some of these areas that you are focused, you’ve mentioned packaging, where do you see synergy between marketing and omni channel or e commerce and sustainability? Are there other areas that, through your perspective as a functional expert you’re already finding promising opportunities to change how you go to market, that also have benefits in other areas?

Emily Fultz: Yeah, so I think that there’s always different, challenges with different channels in which you sell your goods. So, you know, with Amazon we have, we found a lot of success and so we can pull some of that success in the way of keywords and product. And also how we package our goods so that we can help lessen our certain fees that are associated with doing business on Amazon, like our FBA fees, where we are able to really navigate what the weight and dimensions are of our items so that we can lower that cost, and then focus it really towards different ways to market our product from DSP, which we are, you know, recently engaging with, as well as, different programs.

And so I think that we take a lot of learnings from there and we’re able to apply it to our digital shelf and to our packaging. So I think it’s this, it’s a constant continuum really, of learnings that we’re finding, that are working in one channel and applying it to another. So I would say that, as well as how to inspire some change.

So, often retailers really respond, I think, to seeing what’s working at other retailers and when they’re leaning in to sustainability and how it’s being proactive in growth. And so, again, I lean on the analytics side of the house where, comparing the natural products compared to the total collection of products that are being sold and to show that the natural products really are outperforming, outperforming by and large, both in MULO and in food to say, and to share with retailers that it’s okay to kind of lean into some of these, nascent brands that are providing something different for their shoppers. So, but I also, you know, I think I’ve changed my shopping behavior as well, as I’ve been involved in this space. And so I think that we can all take little changes. So maybe when you’re reaching for a plastic bottle of water, you kind of shift and, you know, grab something out of your faucet or, you know, when you’re thinking about heating and cooling your home. Maybe you think about if you’re going to stay in your home for more than 10 years to invest in some home solar. There’s just little steps that we can take as humans that if enough of us take steps there, I think it’s going to step us in the right direction.

Keith Anderson: Hey folks, this is the part of the show where we say thank you and see you soon to the general audience, plus and higher tier members of decarbonize. co. Stay tuned for the rest of the episode.

Keith Anderson: Thanks for listening. I’m Keith Anderson, the executive producer and host of Decarbonizing Commerce. Sonic Futures handles audio, music, and video production. If you enjoyed the show, we’d really appreciate it if you took a moment to subscribe and leave a review or share it with a colleague. For the full episode and more member exclusive insight and analysis, join the Decarbonizing Commerce community at decarbonize.co. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you on the next episode of Decarbonizing Commerce.

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