Katie Thomas

Lead, Kearney Consumer Institute

Katie Thomas has built her career around understanding consumers — what makes them tick, how to meet their needs, and why they are so fiercely loyal to Heinz ketchup.  As lead of the Kearney Consumer Institute (KCI), Katie is advocate for and expert on all things consumer, identifying provocative insights, authoring opinion pieces, and interfacing with Kearney clients.

Katie’s career began in management consulting at Kearney, working on projects across Fortune 500 consumer goods, retail, and media clients to build strategies, conduct market analyses, and identify operational efficiencies.  Katie shifted gears post-MBA, moving into brand management for beloved brands from Heinz to Aidells chicken sausage.  Katie’s obsession with the consumer only deepened through consumer ethnographies and new product launches. Returning to Kearney to lead the KCI, Katie challenges existing assumptions and reframes questions with a consumer-centric perspective.

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  • Posted on: 12/01/2022

    Will candy consumers recycle their wrappers?

    Are recyclable wrappers that put the onus on the consumer for the initiative to be a success really the best companies can do in terms of sustainability? Some of this energy could be shifted to things brands can control that don't rely on consumers' participation or behavior change. I'd love to see the data on the number of those 17,400 bags that were actually sent in... :)
  • Posted on: 11/30/2022

    Was the high-traffic Thanksgiving weekend a promise of things to come?

    Agreed -- consumer sentiment numbers have been getting worse and worse, and yet the retail numbers continue to meet or exceed expectations. Consumers are trying to be smart with their spending and where they are doing it -- but they are still spending.
  • Posted on: 11/29/2022

    What does the promotional climate mean for off-pricers and resale?

    Consumers cross-shop, so heightened promotional activity shouldn't have a major impact on off-pricers where consumers know they can get good value. It is worth noting that during Black Friday, our team observed that consumers were more likely to be at traditional malls to take advantage of the deep discounts, rather than at off-pricers or even big box stores. Ultimately, it comes back to a quality question - where do consumers think they can truly get the best bang for their buck? Discounters? Resale? Or waiting for sales at traditional retailers?
  • Posted on: 11/18/2022

    Do retailers need to add chief trust officers?

    I'm perplexed. Trust is a very qualitative metric, not an easy to survey digital-only metric. Perhaps a chief privacy officer but let's be thoughtful about semantics here. Cybersecurity and full-blown trust in a brand are not synonymous.
  • Posted on: 11/16/2022

    Is durability a more sustainable selling point than sustainability?

    Great point, Gene. We actually asked about this in work we did on quality attributes. We asked consumers to rank, head-to-head, the following attributes regarding jeans: fit, comfort, style, durability, sustainability, brand, and price. We found that consumers prioritized fit and comfort, followed closely by style and durability. Overall, leading with the functional priorities of the product, rather than sustainability, wins out for consumers.
  • Posted on: 11/15/2022

    Will two digital-first concepts prove more successful than one for Panera Bread?

    It's an interesting concept but not without risk. And it sounds like they are trying to reduce labor and overhead costs while couching it as a consumer/convenience benefit. First of all, we've seen many tech companies struggle post-pandemic due to assumptions that certain pandemic digital behavior would continue/keep growing at a certain clip - so I would be thoughtful about that. Additionally, what happens if there's an issue with an online order? How is it resolved? Lastly, Panera largely makes food that people need to sit to be eating. The lack of seating is concerning to me. Even in New York, where space is at a premium and many people grab and go, every seat in a fast casual restaurant is often taken.
  • Posted on: 10/05/2022

    Do grocers have a price perception problem?

    This is a very interesting question! We've heard in recent months that Walmart and dollar/discount stores have seen an influx of higher-income shoppers, and that's precisely because of price perception. Overall, I'd say this misalignment between shopper perception and reality is due to optionality these days - from the aforementioned stores to Aldi and Costco to loyalty programs such as Target Circle to the ability to price shop online, paying regular "full" price may seem high.
  • Posted on: 10/05/2022 gives shoppers more reasons to feel good about buying secondhand

    Increasing visibility and access to resale and sustainable goods is always a good idea, particularly if they are more affordable. That said, some of the beauty of Goodwill, similar to a TJ Maxx, is the treasure hunt - which can't really be replicated online. Could be worth it to really advertise the reinvestment in the local community - that's a differentiator.
  • Posted on: 10/04/2022

    Will AI elevate Google as a shopping search tool?

    Google is certainly one of the brands that could be a frontrunner to mimic the in-store shopping experience online, and continuing to evolve and add new tools is the right way to do it. As an n of 1, I think their shopping search functionality has noticeably improved in recent months. That said, besides the obvious desire for consumers to want to see and touch products in person, the biggest hurdle Google will still have is sheer options - how does it help to curate and simplify for consumers so they don't get overwhelmed and abandon purchase?
  • Posted on: 10/03/2022

    Does Sephora need a same-day delivery subscription?

    Agreed - most consumers are either happy with standard shipping times or run into a physical store.
  • Posted on: 10/03/2022

    McDonald’s rolls out adult Happy Meals in streetwear collaboration

    This is a clever execution that draws attention to the brand through a slightly unexpected partnership, while simultaneously tapping into the nostalgia of the Happy Meal and the toys in particular. Lots of consumers will be pleased with this collab. It's a win-win.
  • Posted on: 09/27/2022

    Is the customer really the most important thing in retail?

    At the end of the day, the consumer should be at the center of every retail decision. Even if you can find success through other avenues at first, over time knowing the consumer will win out. The bigger challenge is what you call out - that everyone *says* the consumer is at the center, but in reality they are not. They are not willing to listen to the consumer, making long-term investments at the expense of short-term ones, and that is where the breakdown occurs.
  • Posted on: 09/26/2022

    Can Instacart marry in-store and online grocery shopping experiences?

    I guess this technology helps to reduce friction in certain areas for the consumer, such as waiting in line and stock issues. But the real breakdown in online vs. offline is a pleasurable shopping experience where people can explore the aisles. This doesn't address any of the treasure hunting or "oops I forgot I needed this" that comes from wandering the store.
  • Posted on: 09/26/2022

    Is ‘productivity paranoia’ from remote working solvable?

    I completely agree. Are your people achieving the goals you've agreed to? Yes or no?
  • Posted on: 09/23/2022

    Did Target just move Black Friday up to October 7?

    Agreed, Melissa - many consumers are simply not ready to start shopping until closer to the actual holidays. They'll try to take advantage of good deals and maybe get a few things earlier, but shopping won't ramp up until later in November.

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