How Visual Arts, Strategy and Analysis Established Erin Fray’s Career as a Foodie
Erin Fray ‘84
Founder & Principal of Luminous Brands
As the Founder and Principal of Luminous Brands - a Marketing and New Product Development Company specializing in consumer goods – Erin Fray ‘84 has successfully established a career as a leading brand strategist. A self-acknowledged “foodie”, she has utilized the visual skillset she developed as an Art History major at Smith, together with an Appraisal of Fine & Decorative Arts Degree at Sotheby’s in London, to craft a professional career around her love of food. Erin has worked for world-class food manufacturers, including Nestlé and Annie’s – which has taken over the market with its well-known organic mac and cheese variety. While Brand Director and Director of Innovation at Annie’s, Erin helped grow the brand by expanding the company’s product portfolio and seeking out new opportunities in the “natural” foods market, such as gluten free pasta, new categories and new use occasions.
When Erin realized her long-term career interests required her to complement her knowledge of art with business expertise and management skills, she decided to pursue an MBA. At UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, she earned the fundamental tools to launch a career in marketing. CPG Brand Marketing interested Erin because, for her, it is all about strategy, human psychology, and learning about consumer behaviors and preferences. Erin emphasizes that both left and right brain analyses inform her work as a brand strategist – a role that is competitive, very analytical, and requires the ability to find and understand unmet consumer needs.
“My education helped me understand the methodology, tactics, and strategy of blue-chip companies,” Erin says.
The range of educational opportunities that Erin had at Smith as well as at the Haas School, equipped her with a strong and diversified skill set and a wide range of knowledge, from horticulture to fluency in French.
When asked what inspired her decision to venture out on her own, Erin describes one pivotal moment in her life: “I had two small children and I got a platinum card from American Airlines in the mail.” Erin recalls dropping the card on the floor, in shock that, as a mother of two small children, she was flying far too much.
“I had one of those moments as a woman who has a professional career and has a family with children, and I was thinking ‘how do I navigate that path?’”
Erin ultimately decided that she wanted to integrate her family life and professional career and stay local. This decision led to the launch of her own marketing firm, Luminous Brands. “It was courageous but when you take any type of new course, you have to trust that it is the right decision,” Erin reflects. “We lean in.”
Erin’s experiences at Smith provided her with a balanced, flexible foundation of skills. One such skill is her ability to actively listen to the needs of clients and their target customers. She has the enviable talent of creating meaningful relationships with her clientele and consumers allowing her to tailor proposals to suit their business needs. Erin also found herself to be more vibrant and inviting than her less-analytical, technical and rigid competitors. This approach attracted clients to her fledgling firm as opposed to larger, more corporate marketing firms in the consumer packaged goods industry. These skills have taken Erin far in her professional career and made Luminous Brands a sought after partner for consumer product companies around the world.
According to Erin, Smith prepared her for delivering “best work” that building her own business venture required:
“We [Smithies] know how to show up and do the hard work and I still do that.”
Finding the opportunity in the market and having the courage to seize that opportunity is Erin’s “secret sauce.” Her ability to stay open to new opportunities is an integral part of her path as Brand/Marketing Strategist.
Another skill that has aided Erin throughout her career is the ability to accept the good with the bad. When it comes to missed opportunities, plans that didn’t quite work out and career mishaps, Erin is fairly nonchalant. “You win some and you lose some, it’s part of the dance!” It’s her passion for Natural and Organic Food that drives her. “When you love what you do, you know you are home.” With confidence, the courage to take on a new opportunities and a good strategy, growth and success will remain on the horizon, as evidenced by Erin’s own trajectory.
Erin is now CEO of Acme Ice Cream, an Ultrapremium Ice Cream from the Bellingham, WA rolling out across the Pacific Northwest.
Erin Fray ‘84
Erin Fray ‘84 graduated from Smith as an Art History major and has since become a successful business leader and Marketing Strategist. She is passionate about harnessing the essence of new products and has grown brands such as Bare Snacks, Kevita Probiotic Super Drink and Ella’s Kitchen Organic baby Food. Erin was a member of the US Rowing Team in 1984 and likes to ski in her free time. Erin is also the current President of Smith Class of 1984.
Connect with Erin on LinkedIn