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Food beverage innovation lessons from Apple

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The Food Innovation Institute just completed its first in a series of food and beverage innovation workshops. The first workshop and throwdown focused on Sandwich Innovation. One of the class exercises used to stimulate our innovative thinking was to identify the characteristics of new product innovation from nonfood companies. Workshop attendees quickly identified Apple Inc. as an innovation learning model for the food industry. As we listed the companys history of new products and how those products met specific needs, we began to ideate around new food and beverage products.

MSN Money and Forbes.com published an online article July 3 called The 10 Most Inventive U.S. Companies. Guess what not a single billion-dollar food company was listed. All top 10 companies led by IBM were technology companies.

Other than food companies, energy companies, chemical manufacturers, and drug giants were also missing from the top 10 list. It was interesting to note some performance metrics used by Forbes.com. Those metrics included 1) number of issued patents in 2009, 2) return on invested capital (ROIC), and 3) earnings per patent. The article further stated that IBM maintains eight pure research labs around the world that work on projects unconnected to any specific business proposal! DuPont, to its credit, has implemented a similar model in food in the U.S. History has documented that the most innovative companies are the most profitable companies.

After listing the history of new product introductions (Apple Inc., handheld PDAs, iPod, iTunes, mobile phone applications, iPhone 2G, 3G, and 4G, and iPad), we began to ideate around the characteristics of the winning strategies. Those successes that the food industry can benefit from were:

• Apple’s new products met specific needs, such as better video graphics
• The new products were always timely
• The new products had high consumer demand, which drove higher profit margins
• New product innovation built the company’s brand equity.

Wow! What if U.S. food manufacturers adapted a corporate culture of new product innovation? What if food and beverage CEOs drove new product innovation thought leadership within their companies, and within public forums like the National Restaurant Association? I believe these changes would lead to energized RD departments,corporate revenue growth and increased profitability.

I was fortunate to start my career with Durkee Foodservice, which drove new product ideation and patent development. Durkee gave me the opportunity to receive two food patents. Many co-workers also received patents for products still sold on retail store shelves today.

Learning from Apple platforms

Let’s look at some specific Apple learning applications, and then apply those concepts to the food industry. First, several Apple products represent a platform for additional consumer benefits. The iTunes store represents a platform for obtaining new songs and other video content. The iPhone represents a platform for data computing, email access, music and video streaming, etc. In summary, the innovation was more a platform for other benefits than it was a specific product.

Now let’s apply those principles to the QSR industry. What could represent a new product platform? In our new sandwich innovation class, that platform was the bread and flatbread products. A single new bread product innovation can transform an entire sandwich menu for all dayparts without adding a single new ingredient!

A more tangible example is the new bread rounds that are opening new product build ideas throughout our industry. Another new platform might be a new portable salad bowl that allows product shelf life to be extended 25 percent longer. In the process, it might also allow the use of more sensitive fruit products that are not as firm as apples.

So can the restaurant industry capitalize on innovation principles used by Apple? Absolutely, yes! But will they?

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