ULTRA VALUES October 26, 2020

Lisa Piccininni On Her Journey In Essential Oils

Lisa Piccininni
General Manager, Ultra International Inc

In a new series of interviews showcased through the Ultra Market Report, key members of the global Ultra team discuss their journey and experiences in the essential oils business along with the skills and expertise they picked up along the way. In this issue, Ultra General Manager, Lisa Piccininni recalls her beginnings in the industry, where the market is going and what she wants from Ultra in the coming years.

Title: General Manager, Ultra International Inc, USA
With Ultra for: 3.5 years
In the industry for: 32 years
Favourite Ultra product: Pink Grapefruit Oil
Favourite part of being at Ultra: There is something new happening every day
Why clients should choose Ultra: We will make sure to find a way to supply the best quality, the best price and the best service

Eddie Bulliqi [EB]: How did you get started in the world of essential oils?

Lisa Piccininni [LP]: I began my career in essential oils with PepsiCo and was with them for 28 years, 16 of those in proprietary ingredients for the Pepsi trademark brands. Starting in 1998 as a temporary administrator, they asked me if I wanted to full-time, working for the director of research and development who was one of the few formula holders within the corporation. As time went on, I began specialising more in proprietary ingredients including the citrus portfolio for the Pepsi brands, 7 Up and Mountain Dew.

EB: What do you think has changed in what companies are looking for in proprietary ingredients then vs today?

LP: It could be argued that today purchasers don’t need as much knowledge and experience as we did back then. SAP (Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing) has taken over, and it is more of an automatic process in which the system generates requirements and digitally fulfils them. Back then, it was a lot more personal – I would be on the phone with traders and manufacturers all day, investigating first-hand what was happening in the market and trying to piece together the story through all the different sources available to me to inform purchasing decisions. Should we go long? Is there a great deal we need to take advantage of right now that could help one of our clients? For me, the biggest difference in the industry today is the missing factor of personal touch which was one of the reasons I love the job. In some ways, it was much more creative in strategy as well as personal, something I still attempt to prioritise today.

EB: Let’s talk about that – how do you try to bring that personal touch?

LP: When I left Pepsi, and joined Ultra, I knew Ravi wanted someone who respected the same values as he did. The style I brought with me was one of treating suppliers, and everyone I work with, with respect at all times, no matter how big or small the client; being fair, transparent and considerate, and giving everyone the same level of service tailored to their needs with an accountable human being on the other end of the phone, rather than an anonymous computer.

EB: What about citrus and the difference in priorities with citrus oils when you first started in contrast to the current climate?

LP: The trend back in my early days in the business was for more of a blended product as it guaranteed consistency and usability – you got the same profile every time without fear of good or bad batches. Today, clients are looking for natural and organic more and more, via long-standing concerns for health that are heightened to an even greater degree by the COVID-19 situation.

EB: What are some of the challenges you face in procurement today?

LP: The primary benefit of working with Ultra is that we’re at source, we’re not just traders like many in the industry. We have “skin in the game”. It gives us a different perspective, knowing what the customer wants on the client-facing end and then being able to pivot and adjust, immediately, in the field, on the farming end. It breaks down traditional communication barriers and enables us to get results for our clients, fast.

That is precisely one of the main challenges today – being able to keep up with the fast pace of the global market and respond quickly, with a globally minded solution. For example, with citrus, the COVID-19 situation did present some sourcing challenges, especially at the beginning of the crisis, when certain countries were slowing down imports and exports. We were able to think on our feet and act fast to fulfil client needs by working with our global network of farms to temporarily re-adjust where we source from to maintain consistency and supply for our customers.

EB: Your predominant experience is in a corporate atmosphere, but what is it like now working for a family company?

LP: One of the first things I noticed when I joined Ultra was that I have direct access to the people who make the decisions, across all departments. In larger, more corporately layered environments, it can be harder to get things done quickly. Here at Ultra, management (including myself) is very open to ideas and seek to react to market trends in real time, so our action time is very short and responsive.

In addition, I have always felt that we have a very collaborative approach to sharing information which not only makes my job easier but also adds a level of trust and reassurance to the personal and social aspect of my work. If I need help from the lab or within the supply chain, I can always rely on the team to get the answers I need to satisfy customers, without any arbitrary blocking of information or hiding of corporate command. We’re a diverse team here, with offices in India, the USA and UK, with a global presence but still with a start-up spirit.

EB: And, to finish, tell me what you would like personally from the future with Ultra and for the industry?

LP: The US challenge going forward will be managing our new portfolio of organic oils since our operating model will change from bulk sales to smaller pack sizes. Ultra is always looking for new opportunities and, personally, I’m very excited about the future of organics here in the USA. Organics have been around for a long time, but timing is everything and I think now is the right time for Ultra to get involved in this market!