Spicy Innovation

The dominant trend in the food industry in the past 50 years has been the demand for greater convenience.   Share of stomach has shifted dramatically from traditional, labor-intensive products (e.g. old-fashioned oats) to faster, simpler ones (instant oatmeal).  While the TV dinner used to be an embarrassing indicator of homemaking failure, zap and serve dinners are now part of our mainstream cuisine.

But there has been a backlash to this trend.  “Cooking” is still a meaningful activity for many people—a symbol of refined tastes, of health or of dedication to those that are served.  Research has shown that “realness” is a powerful benefit in food consumption.

As a result, a parallel trend has emerged in the industry for products that make “home cooking” easier and more convenient.   On one end of the spectrum, think Hamburger Helper, or the plethora of packaged dinners that require adding one or two ingredients and heating, which generates a completely different perception than warming up a can of beans.  These tap into an important consumer psychology: I “cooked” this dinner.

On the other end of the spectrum is an innovative new product: Recipe Inspirations from McCormick.  These simple packages include six pre-measured spices (in see-through plastic) and a recipe card for simplifying the process of cooking fancy meat dishes.  Now to be clear, this process still requires significant culinary involvement.  For the Grilled Caribbean Steak you need to add olive oil, fresh lime juice and a whole pineapple.  But the pesky spice process is simplified—pre-measured and all in one place.  (Nice touch—you have to add the spices in sequence, making it more sophisticated than a spice packet.)

Why we love this innovation:

  1. It rides the cooking convenience trend, but picks the other end of the market—for more adventurous cooks that still want a simplified process.
  2. The little six-pack means I don’t have to buy a spice rack or invest $40 in spices to cook a fancy meat dish.
  3. Recipe Inspirations takes a category that has been staid (spices) and freshens it with a new approach.  (At SagePoint, we are continually amazed at the great ideas that exist in categories which manufacturers think are void of innovation opportunities.)

This does inspire yet another idea—fresh spices to order.  I walk into the grocery store with my gourmet recipe, which calls for fresh cilantro and basil.  So I stop by the Fresh Spice Garden at the deli counter and they clip it from their plants and bag it for me.  Exactly how much I wanted.  (I hate paying for a package of fresh rosemary only to throw away half of it!)  Awesomely fresh.  Admittedly, you might not sell a lot of it, but it’s great for the image of the store, and chances are I’m going to buy my meats, fish and produce on the same trip.

About Bill Aho

Bill Aho is a partner with The SagePoint Group, hands-on consultants that develop innovative products, services and marketing concepts. Bill has worked in marketing, strategic planning, general management and innovation in Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Darden Restaurants and ClearPlay. He has appeared and been quoted in multiple TV, magazines and newspapers, including Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, MSNBC, BBC, PBS and others.
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One Response to Spicy Innovation

  1. Great article. I also enjoyed your thought at the end with the spice counter. Over the past five years, I’ve noticed a trend where certain departments grocery departments, that were once managed by a department expert, are now staffed by low wage employees or replaced by freezer and refrigerator units.

    Having a knowledge expert in those areas gives way to the upsell. Having someone understand what your food need is, and then make recommendations, encourages the purchase of additional goods as well as customer loyalty. One good example of this has been the improvements made to the Harmon’s chain. I can’t tell you how much we’ve spent at their cheese counter because there’s someone there (Andrew) that actively listens, understand our needs and makes recommendations to what we should purchase.

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