To Sustainably Grow and Delight Consumers Globally: My Summer at Kraft Heinz

By Ian P. Cairns, Two-Year MBA ’24

By: Staff
Ian and 4 colleagues sitting on and standing around a large yellow plastic half circle representing a macaroni noodle.

Ian Cairns, MBA ’24, with fellow interns ready to “Make Life Delicious!” at Kraft Heinz in Glenview, IL

From day one at Kraft Heinz Company (KHC), it was evident that I was set for a deep dive into the company’s ecosystem. My introduction spanned tours of R & D facilities, agile innovation workshops, and insightful strategy sessions. I was also immersed in the company culture that emphasized ownership, with a purpose to “Make Life Delicious” and a vision “To sustainably grow by delighting more consumers globally.” What stood out to me about KHC was the empowerment given to interns. We were encouraged to attend any meeting we wished and connect with anyone in the company. Additionally, we regularly interacted with the CEO and C-Suite leaders, reflecting KHC’s commitment to fostering a collaborative culture and investing in their employees.

Ian Cairns and a group of interns wearing white coats and white hairnets.
Ian Cairns touring Kraft Heinz’s Glenview facility with fellow interns

Bridging classroom learning with corporate reality

As a food and beverage industry leader, Kraft Heinz confronts a unique challenge: balancing innovation, agility, and sustainability, especially in the post-COVID era. During my internship I leveraged the skills, tools, and knowledge I acquired during my MBA program at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Each lesson from the Johnson School’s sustainable global enterprise immersion (SGE), led by Professor Mark Milstein and Monica Touesnard, faculty director and executive director, respectively, of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, became integral to my responsibilities, profoundly enriching my professional trajectory. Contrary to what most people might think about sustainability, where a company strives to comply with regulations and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals, the sustainable global enterprise immersion focuses on innovation and entrepreneurship to create competitive business models while at the same time ensuring resources are available for future generations.

The Strategies for Sustainability course by Professor Glen Dowell, in which we dissected companies based on ESG parameters, provided invaluable insights into Kraft Heinz’s operations and values. Similarly, the eLab program, a two-semester startup accelerator led by Ken Rother, emphasized the essence of agility and adaptation. It not only helped me refine my venture concept, but its teachings resonated in every Kraft Heinz project, further equipping me to articulate innovative ideas effectively, always centering on consumer needs.

During the SGE immersion practicum project, my collaboration with Google’s Food for Good team, led by Emily Ma, honed my research capabilities and prepared me to navigate ambiguity. Throughout this project, I connected with leaders in the food industry and academia to gain diverse perspectives toward tackling complex problems surrounding the food system. I even met with our Johnson School dean, Vishal Gaur, an expert in the intersection of food waste and operations research. Using open-source software, my team devised strategies to remove 560 million pounds of food waste throughout the value chain and reduce lost inventory costs among food service operators by 25 percent.

Additionally, courses like Critical and Strategic Thinking by Professor Risa Mish molded my analytical approach, enabling me to pinpoint the root causes of problems and craft recommendations in line with company objectives. The strategies I learned became my guiding compass during various interactions and ultimately led me to create my final project recommendation. Marketing Management, by Professors Emily Garbinsky and Kaitlin Woolley, and Marketing Research, by Professor Young-Hoon Park, offered more than theoretical knowledge; their teachings directly impacted my role at Kraft Heinz, empowering me to break down complex tasks, apply reverse engineering to test hypotheses, collaborate with the consumer insights team, and engage with creative agencies. Furthermore, the tools and skills learned in these courses empowered me to be confidently curious, to ask insightful questions, and to develop an innovative approach towards solving the problems within my summer internship projects.

Navigating innovation: Achievements

While at Kraft Heinz, I tackled real-world corporate challenges, positioning myself at the confluence of innovation and practicality. I helmed a $3+ million experiential marketing strategy, leveraging AI. This endeavor involved coordinating with two undergraduate interns and unifying the efforts of five distinct teams to create a framework applicable to any brand. Our united vision crafted an 18-month strategic roadmap of activations and KPIs (key performance indicators ) to elevate three of Kraft Heinz’s flagship brands. Concurrently, I drove a $1+ million B2B (business-to-business) marketing initiative, focusing on fortifying brand loyalty and augmenting market visibility. This involved everything from curating the RFP (request for proposals) to handpicking the most fitting agency, and culminated in a rebranding campaign poised to reshape industry perceptions.

Beyond projects, my time at Kraft Heinz is distinctly marked by the depth of human interactions I encountered. Engaging with various stakeholders offered me an unparalleled view into the complexities of the food ecosystem (both within Kraft Heinz and beyond). The bonds crafted and nurtured during this period enriched my perspective and fostered lasting relationships throughout my professional journey.

Ian Cairns and a group of interns smiling and giving the peace sign.
Ian Cairns and fellow interns at Kraft Heinz’s Glenview facility

Challenges on the horizon

The challenges I faced during my summer internship were both internal and external. Internally, the new initiatives I was tasked with didn’t have historical benchmarks, introducing ambiguity in my project approach. Moreover, given my non-traditional background in the restaurant industry, navigating a corporate environment was an exciting and novel experience. What I found most essential to my success was securing stakeholder buy-in, especially since my projects were unique initiatives that emphasized integrating innovative and sustainable practices. Externally, with the food industry undergoing a transformation due to Gen-Z’s value-driven purchasing decisions, the challenge of reimagining how brands interact with these emerging consumer preferences arose.

Cornell’s unwavering support

Cornell’s presence was palpable throughout my time at KHC. Whenever I needed advice or resources, I leaned into the Cornell community. My MBA peers offered fresh perspectives, alums shared their industry experiences, faculty provided academic insights, and librarians aided in extensive research. These interactions weren’t merely transactional—they showcased the depth and strength of Cornell’s network, which, in 2023, the Financial Times ranked #1 globally. The support and guidance I received from this community reinforced the value of my Cornell education and made my journey at KHC all the more enriching and impactful.

Concluding a chapter, embarking on new ones

As I enter my final semester at Cornell, I am profoundly grateful for all my experiences and for diving into the university’s robust food ecosystem, including the Johnson Food and Agriculture Club  and the Business of Food. This sentiment isn’t just about the opportunities presented and the profound realization of a business’s potential to drive tangible change. My stint at Kraft Heinz surprised me in the best way possible, offering a panoramic view of a sustainable global enterprise further enriched by my time at the Johnson School. To Kraft Heinz: Thank you for “Making My Life Delicious.”

Ian Cairns standing in a row with two men and two women under an SC Johnson College of Business sign.
Ian Cairns in Sage Hall with his Johnson School core team

Learn more about CSGE

About Ian Cairns

headshot of Ian Cairns.

Ian P. Cairns, a class of 2024 STEM MBA candidate at the Johnson School in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, is an Environmental Finance and Impact Investing (EFII) Fellow who has completed the sustainable global enterprise immersion. Passionate about the nexus of business and sustainable food systems, Cairn’s journey began with crop, soil, and environmental science studies. He then honed his culinary skills at renowned three-Michelin-star restaurants such as Noma, Alinea, and The French Laundry. Before joining the Johnson School, Cairn spearheaded a startup’s research and development team, innovating plant-based dairy alternatives for production.