Leading snack food company gets Hokie flavor
In January, Keely Bushby, a 2018 graduate from Fairfield, Connecticut, began her role as assistant brand manager for Utz, the largest independent, privately held snack company in the U.S. In her new role, Bushby will help bring new products to market, thereby expanding the Utz product line.
"The company is on the brink of tapping into a younger market, so I'm excited to bring my energy and fresh eyes to the table," said Bushby, who studied applied economic management in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.
Bushby interned for Utz over the summer before heading to Switzerland to work as a teaching and program assistant for Virginia Tech’s Linking Lives study abroad program, one she had participated in as a student. Landing her Utz internship one day before spring graduation, Bushby stood out to her now supervisor.
"It's not necessarily what you say that impresses people, it's what you do," said Bushby. "The fact that I drove hours to interview with them the day before I graduated really impressed them. It wasn't the fact that I had other internships on my resume; it was the initiative that they saw and remembered."
During her three-month internship, Bushby built a process for gathering and distilling data for use in innovation, helping to generate 55 new product ideas. Now, she will help bring some of those ideas to market.
"It's like I'm evolving with the product — I get to follow its path," Bushby said. "I get to see it through from idea to implementation and be engaged in the whole process."
While Bushby helped lead the next generation of Hokie professionals during the fall, Utz moved her process forward by beginning concept testing for several new product ideas. That process is still underway, and Bushby now has a firsthand look at how consumers are responding. Moreover, Bushby has the added duties of managing partnerships, working with advertising, and overseeing relationships with other departments, including production.
Given the hefty responsibilities, Bushby's role is not one generally filled by entry-level employees. But Bushby proved herself capable from day one of her internship, quickly putting her education to use.
"We say 'agricultural and applied economics,' but people don't realize how applied the classroom experience really is," said Bushby. "It prepared me to jump right in. I didn't need tons of on-the-job training. When I arrived at Utz, they walked me through things very quickly and then asked me to lead. And I did."
While a student, Bushby took classes in business, leadership, and economics to round out her skill set. In particular, one class made all the difference in her success at Utz: agricultural price analysis with Professor Olga Isengildina-Massa. In Massa's class, Bushby improved her Excel proficiency, learned how to forecast prices and sales, and mastered distilling large amounts of data into meaningful insights.
In addition to formal courses at Virginia Tech, Bushby used her extracurricular experiences to direct and solidify her career interests, discovering food business marketing early on in her college career.
To the credit of faculty advisors Kim Morgan and Clint Neill, Bushby joined the National Agri-marketing Association team at Virginia Tech during her sophomore year and continued with the group for three consecutive years. As part of the team, Bushby helped ideate products and build marketing plans for a sports nutrition drink, a bottled tea beverage, and a technology product that would detect pests in vineyards.
With that experience marketing beverages, Bushby made a fluid transition into solid foods at Utz. Not surprisingly, her interest in the product category continues to grow.
"Snacks are associated with parties and family gatherings," said Busby. "They’re conversation starters, which makes this work really fun. And there's always room for innovation — things to change or things to try. It’s always fast-paced, fresh, and dynamic."
Since Bushy is a recent college graduate with curiosity and brimming ideas, a workplace that's fast-paced, fresh, and dynamic is exactly where she belongs.
"My mentor once told me not to be complacent, but to keep moving," said Bushby. "And that has stuck with me. I want to keep moving forward and growing as a professional. At Utz, I have the support of everyone above me, including senior management. I am super-excited and very, very grateful to be here."
Written by Jillian Broadwell