Despite the tentative economy, Karen Blackwell, manager of supplier diversity and development for NestlÃ© Business Services, North America, says businesses are searching for viable suppliers. To that end, NestlÃ© has supplier programs in place at NestlÃ© Purina Pet Care, NestlÃ© Nutrition (which includes Jenny Craig and Gerber as well as PowerBars) and NestlÃ© Waters North America, among others. Within its operating companies, NestlÃ© provides vendor opportunities in a range of areas, from construction and raw materials to maintenance, marketing, real estate, and human resources services.
What assets do diverse suppliers bring to the table?
I think minority businesses are really going to rise to the top in innovation. Our operating companies are large, and it is hard for minority businesses to get in because it’s so competitive, but in innovation there is opportunity. Diverse suppliers need to think about the future. It is up to business owners to look for ways to add value to the business that they want to supply their services to. Many times diverse suppliers have a greater connection to trends, public sentiment, and to various segments of the community. As a large company we can’t always keenly identify those needs.
With NestlÃ©’s strategic sourcing business model, what is the company doing internally to support diverse suppliers’ competitive needs and meet buyers’ product demands?
For the past three years, we’ve held our own supplier diversity conference where we’ve invited both current and prospective minority, women, and small business owners to attend. We share information about one of the operating companies and about our buying categories so that the companies know more about us and what we’re looking for and how we’re tracking. We also have one-on-one meetings during which they have an opportunity to meet with a particular buyer who buys in a certain category. It’s an opportunity to have that face-to-face contact and for people to have quality time with buyers and suppliers. These conferences are a success. I think our suppliers are strategic and experienced enough to know that you don’t sit down and in 20 minutes walk away with a deal. But what you do walk away with is a better relationship. You know more about that buyer and that buyer knows more about you–moving from contact to contract.