Featured Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 603 – Qual360 North America – Linda Mielnicki Light from Mars Wrigley on Three Key Elements Driving Humans During an Inflation

This podcast is being done in conjunction with Qual360 North America. The conference will be held on March 8 and 9 in Washington DC at the Gallup World Headquarters. 

This year’s theme is empath, diversity, and resilience. 

Similar to last year, I will be hosting the event and I would love to see you. 

To learn more, check the show notes or just DM me on LinkedIn. 

Our guest today is one of the speakers at Qual360.

Linda Mielnicki Light, Associate Director of Global Insights Connect and Gifting Portfolio at Mars Wrigley. 

Mars is an American family-owned multinational manufacturer of some of the world’s most iconic products including M&M’S®, SNICKERS®, ORBIT®, EXTRA® and Skittles. 

Prior to joining Mars, Linda served as a senior insights leader at Con Agra Foods, FedEx, and McDonalds and started as an intern at Coca-Cola.

Find Qual360 North America Online:

Find Linda Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 

Music: 

This Episode is Sponsored by:

HubUX is a research operation platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. 

For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com


[00:00:00]

Jamin Brazil: Hey, everyone, you are listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. This podcast is being done in conjunction with QUAL360 North America. The conference will be held on March 8th and 9th in Washington DC at the Gallup world headquarters. This year’s theme is empathy, diversity, and resilience. Similar to last year, I’ll be hosting the event, which I’m super excited about, and I would love to see you, my listeners, there. To learn more about the event, you can check the show notes or you can DM me on LinkedIn, or you can just Google qual 360 North America and it’ll take you right there. Our guest today is Linda Mielnicki Light. She is the Associate Director of Global Insights Connect and gifting portfolio at Mars Wrigley. Mars is an American family-owned multinational manufacturer of some of the world’s most iconic products including M&M’s, Snickers, Orbit, Extra, and Skittles, all of which I stock from Costco regularly. Prior to joining Mars, Linda served as a senior insights leader at ConAgra Foods, FedEx, and McDonald’s and she started her career as an intern at Coca-Cola. Linda, welcome to the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:01:12]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Hi, Jamin. Great to be here with you.

[00:01:18]

Jamin Brazil: HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation, including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit HubUX.com. It is a pleasure to be able to connect with you. We’ve done so professionally before. This, obviously, is in conjunction with your upcoming talk. But before we get into the actual topic, I wanted to kind of get a little bit more context as a consumer insights professional in 2023. We’re just stepping into the year, finishing up the first month. What is keeping you up at night?

[00:01:59]

Linda Mielnicki Light: It’s a great question. So for me, I am torn between really two things. Torn between embracing technology. So as we think about the future of market research, I truly feel like we kind of have to get beyond just asking consumers, “What do you think or feel about this?” But really start to tap into some of the technology that’s at our fingertips. Now, when we think about technology, let’s think wearables, biometric feedback sensors, and this kind of thing. That’s the way of the future. And this is probably going to be impacting the way people eat, the way people sleep, how often they work out. And so as I think about that, from a CPG standpoint, I think we need to be very cognizant of that and the ability to tap into those kinds of mechanisms to really understand the full totality of a person. Now, that said, the thing that kind of keeps me up at night is just the fact that you have so much of this data that can be used and manipulated for nefarious purposes. And so as I think about that, there’s just such a responsibility. So the ability to go in and say, “Yes, I want to have wearables. I want to do this and that, broadcast my life everywhere.” That stuff also lives on forever. So technology is a good thing, and it’s a bad thing. So it’s one of the things that keeps me up at night. The other one is, and Jamin, you and I know, we’ve talked about Gen Z in the past. I do a lot of Gen Z work within our organization. And so the younger generation keeps me up at night. From the standpoint of I feel super optimistic about this generation. I feel really that these guys are going to be the creators; creators of the next generation, creators of the next institutions. They’re the ones that are calling out our political systems don’t work, our educational systems don’t work. So these guys are going to be on the forefront of that. And I have so much hope, in that generation as really calling things out, dismantling some of them, and rebuilding to a much better place. However, then the opposite, the shadow of that is these guys are connected to their phones. There’s a generation of people that are, “I’m going to be famous for being famous.” I just finished reading a book called “Hollowed Out”, where it’s I’m extremely worried about this next generation of humans. Will they be able to feed themselves? Will they be able to maintain jobs? The basics. So I’m extremely hopeful and at the same time, the counterpart of that is, I don’t know. They kind of freak me out at the same time.

[00:04:51]

Jamin Brazil: Just for the context of the audience, you have children?

[00:04:54]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Yes, I’ve got three teenagers that are very Gen Z. 20-year-olds, 18-year-old, and a 15-year-old.

[00:05:02]

Jamin Brazil: I have almost the exact same ages. I have two in Gen Alpha and three in Gen Z.

[00:05:10]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Oh goodness.

[00:05:14]

Jamin Brazil: I’m pausing because I want to be really careful with how I say it. But it’s the most gifted generation ever, in terms of categorical knowledge. You have access to anything that you want.

[00:05:26]

Linda Mielnicki Light: You have a computer in your pocket.

[00:05:29]

Jamin Brazil: And it’s more than that even. It’s the whole world, isn’t it?

[00:05:31]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Yeah. It’s fascinating.

[00:05:34]

Jamin Brazil: And it used to be the case, our generation, I’ll assert just given our children’s age, that we’re probably Gen X. Well, I’m definitely Gen X.

[00:05:43]

Linda Mielnicki Light: I’m Gen X too.

[00:05:45]

Jamin Brazil: So when we wanted to learn things, we would go to the single source of truth, which was the Encyclopedia Britannica, and/or the library. And so there were massive time gaps with respect to our ability to be able to learn both in terms of that information being able to be culminated and disseminated, so that took years. And then once that actually landed in a library, I only went to the library once every two weeks. And so, again, a big amount of space there. Whereas now, I get quite literally, that instant feedback. And I think in a lot of ways, it helps with little things like how do you change a tire? But it hurts for bigger things like what do I want to do with my life? Because there are so many options.

[00:06:31]

Linda Mielnicki Light: That plus, I think just the amount of time that they spend on their phones or the amount of time they spend in front of a screen. So now you’re in school, but you’re in front of a screen 24/7 with your computer and everything. And from that standpoint, there’s a negative effect on the brain. The blue light that comes through, that’s not a positive thing. They’re getting less exercise. They’re getting less blood flowing throughout the body. So there’s the physical aspect of it. In addition to ambition, knowledge, all of that.

[00:07:10]

Jamin Brazil: It is absolutely terrifying and everything you’re saying. And a lot of that gets kind of, to your point before around concerns around technology, the intent of most technology is to dominate your time. We used to think about share of wallet as brands. And now, many brands are thinking about time on screen or time in app, or that kind of framework. In which case, the engineering, the ability to be able to build products that are quite literally just captivating our brains, our animalistic sides. And we as humans, just kind of fall into that. Sad to say, but it just kind of is what it is, myself included. I’ve done a lot on TikTok, some professionally and some just for fun. Most just for fun. And it is amazing how you can kind of get that – You have to force yourself to separate from the endorphin rush of the swipe.

[00:08:02]

Linda Mielnicki Light: I agree with you. And so then that kind of tags back into the point I was making about wearables and the future of technology, biofeedback sensors. In the future, if let’s say you’re in a situation where it’s, “Oh, my sensor has said, I’ve eaten all the carbs I should eat for the day.” Will it ever just shut you down? Will it say, “No, you’re not going to this restaurant? You’re not doing this or that?” So it could be a very fascinating future. But it could also be a very scary future because we truly don’t know what we don’t know. And I heard somebody saying the other day, back in the, I don’t know, 1900s or something, the amount of information that existed doubled every, what, 10 years or something like that. And today, they’re saying the amount of information that exists in the world doubles every 24 hours. You just can’t be on top of your game all the time, because there’s new information that comes through and how do you sort through all of it?

[00:09:07]

Jamin Brazil: So your topic is titled “The Human Impact of Inflation”. Give us a sneak peek about your talk.

[00:09:13]

Linda Mielnicki Light: So in short, what I’m doing is I’m stitching together a few different research techniques to be able to provide some holistic context around the human impact of inflation. And the reason why this is really coming to bear for me within my role at Mars Wrigley is obviously a lot of CPG companies are going to be in the same place. We’re pulling a lot of data, data from past recessions to say, “What do you think we’re going to be seeing during this period of time?” In terms of sales, movement, what should we be expecting in terms of pack sizes? We’ve got supply chain issues, a range of topics that everybody within CPG is going through. In the context of pulling data, some of the conversation we had internally was, I think we’re missing some of the story when it comes to what’s really happening to human beings at this point in time, at this point in history. So we’re just coming out of COVID. Everyone was so excited about, “You, here’s all the things I’m going to do once lockdowns are over and everything.” And now we’re struggling with how do I get fuel for my car? How do I feed my family? We’re not going out to eat as often. So all of that is causing a lot of angst and a lot of stress. So the point of what I started to do within Mars Wrigley was to create a series of webinars that happen on a quarterly basis, around really starting to bring the empathy of what humans are experiencing during this point in history to the organization so that everybody can understand it, and they can feel it. And the other thing I say internally is, nobody that’s working at the corporate level in a CPG company is making minimum wage. We aren’t living the lives of our consumers. So really starting to bring some of the stories in front of our leadership is so impactful. So that was really what inspired me to say, let’s take some of this information and to share it at this conference. So part of what I’ll do is to share some of these empathetic and insights that we’re uncovering, but the other part is to show how we’ve been able to leverage some of the different tools and techniques that we have access to. So we can ask consumers questions via video commentary. So I have some of that in the presentation. We’ve also leveraged a few other tools and techniques. And so I’ll talk through that in the context of the talk as well.

[00:11:55]

Jamin Brazil: I love the framework of empathy. And I also appreciate that we’re very fortunate and oftentimes far removed from the general population, in terms of what keeps them up at night. And you’ve done a really good job of succinctly getting to that and helping build that bridge in the corporate framework. I’m excited about hearing your talk. What are some specific takeaways that the audience may be able to employ or deploy in their organizations?

[00:12:26]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Well, so we’ve leaned into some hot sources to look at. So how impacted are people by inflation today? So one of the key takeaways is that inflation has overtaken really anything else that has been surveyed, whether you’re talking about COVID, crime, political issues, education, what have you. COVID is the number one issue for countries globally. And that has increased in terms of the number one concern, month over month over month, throughout the year of 2022. The other, I think, key takeaway here is that in addition to consumers saying things like, “I’m stressed. I’m suffering sticker shock. I don’t have any time on my hands.” We’ve heard from so many consumers, or I would say humans, who say, “I can’t afford gas for my commute to work, so now I’m taking public transport. I’m also not going out to eat anymore.” So I’m making more meals at home. And so what’s happening in the context of that? Well, the amount of expendable time that they have on their hands is drastically decreasing, because now their commute to work is taking them three times longer. Now, they’re making their dinners at home, so they’re eating later. People are crankier. They don’t have exposure to some of the indulgences that they had previously. So you really start to dimensionalized some of the stress that people are under today. It’s not just the terminology of stress, but it’s lack of time. It’s lack of energy. It’s lack of money. And so what are we looking for? What’s going to start to fuel us? What we found is that there’s three key human insights that folks are looking for during this time of inflation. One is control because this economic environment, the political environment, the social environment that we live in, is not in our control. So control is one of those key areas that folks are really seeking at this point in time. That’s not something that someone is going to tell you, “I’m looking for more control,” when you ask them in a video interview, but that’s why stitching together all of these different tools and techniques, you start to realize, ah, there’s something underneath that. So one of those things is control. The other is care. So one of the reasons why people give to others is because you also give to yourself at that time. So care is another one of those areas where we know that everybody is suffering, just I would say all income levels, whether you’re low, medium, high, inflation is cutting across all of them. And so everyone’s in the same boat. We also know that when you’re not going out to eat, you’re not giving big gifts, what are you doing? Well, you’re baking things. You’re saying to your neighbor, “Hey, I got some extra this or that. So do you think you’d want to share?” Or you’re arranging toy swaps. You’re doing some of these other things where you’re just, “Hey, I can’t afford new toys for my child.” But now you’ve got these micro-communities of people that are getting together through social media to say we have access, or, “We’re done using this. It’s still in great condition. How can you use it?” So that’s how care is being dimensionalized as well. And then comfort. Comfort is the other area where, obviously, people are seeking a way to recharge, I would say not only their bodies, but also their emotional state, their soul. So comfort is another one of those key elements that we’ll talk about in my upcoming presentations.

[00:16:18]

Jamin Brazil: Fun. I cannot wait. That is super interesting. My last question, what is your personal motto?

[00:16:26]

Linda Mielnicki Light: My personal motto. So during this time of inflation, and I say this to my kids all the time, but it’s especially true as I’ve been doing all of this inflationary work. You really don’t know what other people are dealing with under the surface. So my personal motto is karma. It’s what goes around comes around. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be a jerk to other people because you don’t know if they’re having a bad day. This is a blip in their life, or if it’s just a matter of they’re really struggling with something really, really heavy right now. So I would just say don’t be a jerk. I tell my kids this all the time. And it really, I think, is coming to life for me personally, as I do some of this work professionally. That the need for kindness in this world is so overwhelming. So be an agent for change. Be a force of good. And I’d say be nice to the elderly. There’s just a special place in my heart for the elderly. And I’m hoping that we will all have the opportunity to be old at some point. So again, treat everybody with kindness, because when you’re old, and you can’t see well and you can’t hear well, you’re going to be treated in a way that you treated others too. So that’s my I would say my life philosophy.

[00:17:55]

Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Linda Mielnicki Light, Associate Director of Global Insights Connect and gifting portfolio at Mars Wrigley. Linda, thank you for joining us on The Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[00:18:06]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Thank you so much for having me, Jamin.

[00:18:08]

Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope to see you at QUAL360 in Washington DC on March 8th, and 9th. I’ll be there. Linda will be there. We would love to talk more about this particular topic and other things that are trending in the space. Have a great rest of your day.