Anna Neri Datri is the Vice President of Marketing for Innovative Food Brands, a company that owns and oversees restaurants Teriyaki Experience and Chopped Leaf, and is dedicated to rolling out healthy food choices within the fast food industry. Neri Datri is deeply rooted in retail marketing having held senior roles with leading retail brands including LCBO, Indigo, Second Cup, and her own retail consultancy firm Datri Design Group.

As our inaugural interview for the TACK10 Strategic Partnership Series, Neri Datri takes us through her personal experience developing partners for brands old and young, and what she considers to be the most important aspects of a successful strategic partnership.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your professional background and current role?
I’ve been in retail marketing for over 20 years, mainly working with non-traditional retailers who have a focus in one area but want to branch out into new spaces. For example, Indigo moving from selling books to becoming more of an overall lifestyle brand, or LCBO moving from alcohol to entertainment. I eventually consulted on the UP Express project, which endeavoured to be more than a transit solution and sought to represent a lifestyle brand that was representative of Toronto’s culture.

From there, I moved into other retail roles, most recently with a company called Innovative Food Brands for the regeneration of Teriyaki Experience as well as an expanding food brand called The Chopped Leaf. My work has always held a consistent theme: I have led the entry into new spaces for brands and strategic partnerships have been a cornerstone of the strategies I have implemented to do so.

What does the concept of strategic partnership mean to you?
Strategic Partnership to me means the connection of two similar organizations with similar values, who are not necessarily doing the same thing. It’s asking “What kind of partnership can I create to help me better serve my guests? How can my brand benefit from this? What likeminded organizations are doing something special that could make my business more robust?”

Why are strategic partnerships important to your brand?
Strategic partnerships are important in terms of growing a brand. At The Chopped Leaf, we’re a young brand. We’re pretty well known out West but as we enter Ontario we need to look at relationships with prominent brands to help us broaden awareness of our own. Going back to UP Express, it’s the iconic Toronto brands like Balzac’s that gave UP its roots as a brand that was part of the fabric of the city.

Further, partnerships allow customers to get a feel of what you’re about through the relationships you’ve built with other brands. It’s like when your mom used to say “you’re guilty by association,” but hopefully with a more positive spin. It’s important to look at what interesting partners are out there that will raise not only eyebrows, but attention for your brand.

What are some examples of successful strategic partnerships you have created in your past or current roles, and what did the partners successfully accomplish together?
I must go back to UP Express and its retail partnerships to answer this question. Here, we were getting 100% entrepreneurial, free-spirited retailers to work within the constraints of a government organization. We had to sit down with both Metrolinx and the retailers to understand what was important for each side, and we were able to achieve that for them. The partnerships created were definitely successful investments for all parties. We used some of the most out-of-the-box thinking to ensure goals were met while customers experience a piece of Toronto in every ride.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of our interview with Neri Datri, where we dig even deeper into her partnership strategies and why they’ve worked for her.