Archive for July, 2013

Innovation – In the fancy food industry it wins customers and awards

July 9, 2013

Just what is innovation?

It is the initial phase of creative idea-generation, then the process of turning ideas into products or services, and of course getting the buy-in of vested people along the way.

At last week’s Summer Fancy Food Show at the Javits Center in New York City, I saw and tasted many examples of specialty food: from POP! Rogue Blue Gourmet Popcorn to Fromagerie Belle Chevre’s Goat Cheese Cheesecake to Tate’s Bake Shop’s Whole Wheat Dark Chocolate Chip cookies and many others.  These offerings and others won Sofi awards, the highest honor in the $86 billion specialty food industry, for innovation and excellence.

How can your firm win and grow through innovation?

People: You have to build innovation into the fabric of the organization and the focus on innovation has to come from the top, then bought into by all levels within the organization as well as vendors, suppliers and of course appreciated by customers.

Idea generation: to come up with brilliant, game-changing ideas.  Innovators put together ideas and information in unique combinations; this is not an inherent trait, rather a set of skills that can be learned.  One key to being a better innovator is knowing people from varied backgrounds, who work for different companies, in different industries, have different skills, and deal with different issues, so that you are exposed to varied ideas.  Look for the next great product or product feature.

Translating innovation strategies into profitable growth:  Focus on creating value to customers in new ways.

*  Bundle products and services to provide solutions.  To provide flavor enhancement, Korean Delights – We Rub You – developed Spicy Korean BBQ Marinade; with its multiple seasonings effectively combined, cooking is faster and easier.

*  Develop offerings to improve their customers’ business performance.  Effie’s Homemade has done just that with its Single Serve Oatcakes, a shelf-stable food service product that can be sold at the register in bodegas, served at events, etc.; the product is appealing and eliminates waste.

*  Anticipate entirely new customer needs.   GoGo squeeZ has packaged its delectable apple sauce in squeeze pouches; a healthy food in functional packaging for today’s on-the-go, portion-controlled consumer.

*  Expand the boundaries of their offerings.  Bone Suckin’ Sauce expanded their offerings from humans to also include dogs; while they have according to my brother the best beef jerky on the market, they introduced a high quality jerky for dogs.

*  Change the scale of the offering.  Parmesan cheese is often available in big wheels or hefty chunks of cheese.  Parmissimo Snack offers a small 80-calorie 2-3 bite snacking wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Jumping early on trends with your own twist is an easy way to innovate.  Some trends spotted at the Summer Fancy Food show include: Reinvented Frozen Treats (Kalelicious Smoothie Pops, Tea Pops); Grains and Seeds in New Places (Sweet Potato, Quinoa and Kale Ravioli, jcoco Agave Quinoa Sesame Milk Chocolate Bar); Global Meal Starters (Thai Red Curry Simmer Sauces, Pot Roast Meal Starter); Retro Mania Done New (Orchid Vanilla Macaroon Ice Cream Sandwich, Short Stacks Banana Pudding Pancake Mix); and Be Your Own Mixologist (Lavender Martini Mocktails, Cocktail Bitters) as well as Vietnamese flavors, chickpea and seaweed snacks, maple products, and sweet and savory cookies.

Successful outcome also depends on solid execution.  Make innovation a team sport. Form partnerships with the firms in your ecosystem that have assets or capabilities that complement your own; collaborating with external resources can increase your company’s innovation productivity and prowess as well as commercializing solutions with minimal cost or risk.  Organize to deliver value.  To ensure outside ideas make their way into the company’s innovation pipeline:

*  Set clear goals, establishing a filter process, and showing strong commitment to creating new partnerships.

*  Make the linkage between outside and inside resources as smooth as possible.

*  Form a cross-functional group that meets biweekly to discuss projects, share insights, and make sure the external partners are talking with the right people.

To create and sustain innovation, build up your tolerance for and ability to manage failure. By its very nature, innovation implies risk.  By involving others in ideation through execution, risk can be minimized.  Fail fast and learn from failures.

Two cautionary innovation notes:

Turf wars – employees in one part of a company may reject ideas and advice from a different part.

Trouble by trying to please your best customers – because there may be only a handful of highly profitable, high-end buyers who want and can afford more features and better performance, firms can invest heavily in trying to deliver what this elite group wants even though the resulting products may end up beyond the reach of the majority of their customers.

Everyone (customers, partners, vendors, etc.) benefits from good innovation.  Why not start or ramp-up your innovation efforts today?