For the last 5 years Roger Shadbolt has been food product development manager for a food company that supplies to major UK retailers.
The food sector requires constant innovation, it’s fast moving and demanding; yet despite this, innovation can sometimes be too formulaic.
The ‘normal’ process is that the retailer provides a brief based on food trends, customer insight and some indication on what they expect on their shelves. The supplier responds to the brief with a number of written ideas on which they receive feedback. Based on feedback the supplier provides 3 or 4 concepts in the next round complete with full factory costing, and from that final products are chosen and put into production. The process of brief to shelf can take anything from 6 months to a year.
When it comes to innovation, Roger was telling me how he was lucky because “I essentially had a great boss that gave me time and space to create”
“I was given time, a clear desk and clear headspace and I was allowed to time just for me. I put Radio 6 music on and started to create.”
As Roger was creating that morning he pondered over his own breakfast needs.
“I love croissants but I don’t have time on a work day to wait 15 minutes for the oven to heat up before I can reheat a store-bought product to eat for breakfast.”
“I made a whole load of interesting shaped products in various loaf tins that would suit slicing for quick heating in the toaster like you would a normal slice of toast for breakfast”
Roger gave his boss a toasted piece of the sliced croissant loaf. He was thrilled. Roger shared his insights about wanting croissants for breakfast but not having time in the week to heat them up in the oven. He asked the question; “If this is the case for me, perhaps it’s also true for other people – for other customers?” Roger realised the potential of this product as midweek and a weekend breakfast product.
They wondered if retail clients would be as thrilled as they were with the insight and the idea so they bypassed the normal processes and took their croissant loaf concept straight to their UK food retailer clients, They explained how a toasted croissant could be enjoyed mid-week before work without use of an oven to enjoy the product toasted and at its best. Their clients loved it and wanted to know when they could launch it!
Within weeks the croissant loaf was flying off the shelves. People loved it.
Croissant loaf rode on a food trend at the time of hybrid products inspired by Dominique Ansels’ invention of the cronut (croissant/donut) followed by townies (tarts/brownies) and duffins (donut/muffins). Croissant loaf went on to win the Quality Food awards in the bakery morning goods category 2016. And all from Roger having the time and space to create a product that he wanted to create.
Deviate from ‘normal’
The croissant loaf wasn’t conceived in the conventional way. Roger wonders if they had presented their clients with a written concept version of the ‘Croissant loaf suitable to toasting’ if they might not have felt the thrill that they did by holding a warm toasted croissant dripping with butter and jam in their hand. Skipping some parts of the standard launch process bought the product to life and made it exciting. The client teams saw the potential straight away and were excited from the start. Plus on a practical note it keeps longer and has fewer calories per slice than a ‘normal’ croissant.
“Innovation breeds innovation”
The good sales figures off the back of media attention encouraged Roger and his team to innovate more. There was real excitement, which drove aspiration and momentum for innovation. People were more open to thinking differently, deviating from the norm and bending the rules.
“Breaking the process rules once which resulted in successful sales and media attention gave us ambition and confidence to look for other new innovation.”
The development of the croissant loaf was not all plain sailing. The team at the factory that had made traditional croissants for 20 years weren’t keen at first. They didn’t want to use the machinery differently. Roger had to get the factory managers and their teams to buy into the idea.
He had to put his excitement about his idea to one side and help them to get as excited as him. He let them take ownership, work out how to best produce croissant loaf and he gave them ownership of developing the packaging. He was careful not to micromanage or be too prescriptive. He let them develop the best solution. Eventually the whole site was on his side working to get croissant loaves on the shelves.
Rogers’s 7 innovation tips
- Work on what interests you right now and make that happen. It’s really important to do something that interests you.
- Don’t think too much. Don’t wait to start. Start right away.
- Don’t get muddled in number crunching – get the first version down.
- Version 1 is never the final version. You might end up with something totally different along the line.
- Get everyone excited.
- There are many barriers and there is never a right time.
- Rogers advice to managers is to give someone a task and let them get on with it. Deliberately factor in time for them with nothing to do. Book ‘off timetable’ time in. It’s the only way to really get creative.
- Take the pressure off and play – if Rogers first iteration of croissant loaf had needed to be customer ready it would have looked different and probably wouldn’t have happened.
- When people experience an idea they ‘get it’ much easier than a boring process and paper drawings – do what you can to bring your idea to life.
For more on Roger Shadbolt go to www.rogershadbolt.co.uk.