Canadian-born Marek Tomalak took up his post as PepsiCo Ukraine General Manager in June 2019. As he approached the half-year mark in his new position, the former Senior Marketing Director for PepsiCo in Eastern Europe spoke to Business Ukraine magazine about the specifics of the Ukrainian consumer market and his key priorities for the years ahead.
In your previous role, you oversaw PepsiCo’s marketing activities throughout the Eastern Europe region. What characteristics does the Ukrainian market share with other regional markets, and how does it stand out?
Ukraine mirrors the broader trends towards greater emphasis on health and wellness, but the Ukrainian market also stands out for a number of reasons. The macroeconomic and geopolitical changes we have seen here in the past couple of years have been unprecedented. As a result, businesses and consumers both behave differently. Growth dynamism has been impressive. Many of the categories where we are present have been experiencing double-digit growth. This is fueling changes in the structure of our business, with segments such as “away from home” consumption growing more rapidly than in other regional markets. In terms of consumers, my perception is that Ukrainians are particularly receptive to innovation. In many cases, Ukrainian consumers are jumping ahead of regional trends and embracing product lines that are developing at a slower pace in many other countries. This applies to brands and innovations brought into Ukraine from outside the country, and to locally driven innovations. We see this in the enthusiasm for products like flavored Pepsi beverages and oven-baked Lays potato chips. This places Ukraine ahead of the curve and demonstrates that Ukrainians have a taste for new experiences. They seem to take genuine pleasure from shopping and actually look for innovations on the shelf.
You have been in your current post as General Manager of PepsiCo Ukraine since June 2019. How do you find living and working in Kyiv?
I have been a frequent visitor to Ukraine for a number of years, so there was no sense of culture shock in moving here to live. However, I must say that Ukraine has changed massively, even in the time that I have known the country. One of the main observations I have relates to the resilience of Ukrainians. They seem to approach the challenges they face with a smile and with a sense of optimism. This has helped us to feel welcome and at home here. The city itself is very vibrant and has a lot to offer for all the family. I can say that my wife and children enjoy Kyiv just as much as I do.
Looking ahead, what are your priorities as General Manager of PepsiCo Ukraine?
My top priority is to make sure the company is in a position to thrive in what is a dynamically changing market. The economic recovery in recent years has been strong and consumer habits are evolving rapidly. It is my job to many sure that we are able to take full advantage of these factors. The second big priority is building on the talent we have here in Ukraine. This means investing in recruiting, training, developing and retaining the right talents. I try to invest my time in this process by engaging across the organization. I am also focusing on making sure we live up to our high standards as responsible corporate citizens. PepsiCo has a very strong sustainable business agenda and this applies to products as well as production processes. We have a partnership with several other companies here in Ukraine to help make packaging more sustainable, and we invest constantly in our infrastructure to make sure we minimize our ecological footprint. As part of our development, we are expanding policies of localization and working with Ukrainian farmers to produce more of the ingredients we need here in Ukraine. This applies to the products themselves and the associated infrastructure for processing and storage. When we invest in farming partnerships, we have the long-term perspective very much in mind.
General retail sales figures have been rising slowly but steadily in Ukraine for a number of years now. Are you observing this trend at PepsiCo?
We have been witnessing strong recovery since 2014. In the categories where we operate, we continue seeing very optimistic figures, thanks to a combination of economic growth and consumers increasingly choosing our products. So looking ahead, our forecasts are very positive. Some categories are newer and demonstrate robust growth, while others are slower, but the diverse PepsiCo portfolio in Ukraine provides for a good balance of growth engines overall.
How does the PepsiCo brand portfolio in Ukraine compare to other regional countries, and are you currently considering any additions to this portfolio?
We have five categories in Ukraine: beverages, snacks, juices, dairy products, and baby food products. Ukraine is one of the few countries globally where we have such a complete portfolio. This gives us good credibility as a leading food and beverage company. It also places a responsibility on us to help establish certain standards in the broader business climate. In terms of additions, there is also a lot of growth potential in all of the categories where we are present, with new products and flavors among the innovations we are pursuing.