An Idea that Popped Up

The best innovations come from a deep understanding of the consumer.  Some companies assume that means focus groups—a first step in their innovation process is to ask consumers what they want from the product.  That rarely works, because, as Steve Jobs so adamantly preached—people don’t know what they want.  You often have to show them.  It’s not that they won’t tell you in focus groups; it’s that they can’t.

That’s why it’s so important to dig deep for consumer insights that will lead to successful product ideas.  That’s true for every category and every business.  Take microwave popcorn, for instance.  There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the category historically—flavors, low-fat, natural—the usual suspects in food.  And if you asked consumers, they would probably say that was fine.  On the other hand, the lack of really relevant news had contributed to a slowly declining category, as consumers shifted to new entries in adjacent categories, including ready-to-eat popcorn.

But if you looked a little more closely at how consumers actually used microwavable popcorn, like the Orville Redenbacher team at ConAgra Foods did, you’d realize there were opportunities to deliver a better experience.   And one of those opportunities led to the biggest innovation in microwavable popcorn in the past decade.  Here’s the insight: Microwave popcorn bags are kind of nasty to eat from; particularly the buttered varieties.  Your hand gets all greasy from the butter on the bag, especially when you’re reaching at the bottom.   That sure rings true to me, but I’ve never thought about a solution—other than pouring my popcorn into another bowl—dirtying another dish.

Enter the Orville Redenbacher Pop Up Bowl.  Sort of simple, really.  Instead of microwaving your popcorn in an inconvenient bag, why not directly in a bowl that’s easy to serve?  Just tear off the top and you’ve got a snack that’s a lot more convenient to eat and ready to serve.  And you kind of wonder—why didn’t anyone think of that before?

Innovation takes knowing what consumers really want—even if they don’t tell you.  And having a little imagination when approaching the opportunity.

Why We Like This Innovation

It’s customer-based, if not customer driven.  I get it right away, because I can relate to the problem it solves.  And it leverages one of the dominant trends in consumer packaged goods in the past 100 years: Convenience.  It’s SagePoint’s experience that there are opportunities like this in every category—innovations just waiting to happen that can jump-start a business and even transform a category.  Nicely done by the ConAgra Foods team!

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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