Pinnacle Foods

Lessons in innovation leadership: talking to the CEO of Pinnacle Foods

Bob Gamgort is the CEO of Pinnacle Foods, a leading American FMCG food marketer whose portfolio includes Birds Eye, Duncan Hines and Vlasic, brands that can be found in nearly 85 percent of US homes. He was interviewed by NielsenWire as part of a series of articles titled Lessons in Innovation Leadership that showcase experienced business leaders who have led, and learned, from significant innovation initiatives. Bob GamgortQ: What is your definition of innovation?

Bob Gamgort (BG): I think innovation is solving a problem or satisfying a need in a way that’s not been done before and then getting it to market in a way that increases brand or company value.  Many people think of innovation strictly in product terms, but I believe innovation should be considered in a broader context.  There’s business model innovation, distribution innovation, marketing innovation, etc.  In the consumer products business, innovation is too quickly associated with line extensions – I believe there’s much more opportunity to expand the view of innovation.

Q: What would be an example of one or two successful innovations in your career and what are some of the takeaways that you have from that?

BG: I think our recent launch of Duncan Hines Frosting Creations is a great example.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, Frosting Creations is a first of its kind system in which bakers combine a variety of fun, unique flavor mixes into a flavorless frosting base to create a custom baking experience.

The key to its development was an understanding of the needs of both new and experienced Bakers and then translating them into a solution that was consistent with the values of the Duncan Hines brand.  We see the Duncan Hines brand as an enabler of Bakers’ desire for self-expression. We’ve captured that sentiment in the brand’s tagline, “Bake On!”

Frosting Creations is a good example of how an innovative mindset can keep an established brand fresh. You have to remember that while your brand may have been around for a long time, your consumer franchise is constantly renewing itself. Every year there is a new group of teenagers that are being exposed to your brand for the first time. The balancing act is: how do you make sure that when they see this product they not only see a brand that their mother or father trusted, but also a brand that’s relevant for them, while at the same time being true to the loyal consumer by keeping the brand’s features and values consistent enough to maintain their loyalty?

We approach the challenge in two ways. We continuously renovate our existing products by delivering more benefits, whether it’s convenience, flavor or health and nutrition, and upgrading product quality and consistency. So that even people who have been with the brand for a long time see it as an improvement, not a change. You win with your current users as well as with your new users when you successfully renovate.

But there are times when we decide that we need an innovation to attract a new consumer base. The key is to stretch enough to attract the new group without drifting so far from your brand character that existing consumers see a disconnect.

I think an innovation like Frosting Creations demonstrates how that balance can be achieved. It’s not a replacement for the traditionally flavoured frosting that we currently sell — there are many consumers and occasions for which these are the best solution. However, younger consumers today expect everything to be customized and personalized to their individual tastes. So Frosting Creations uniquely meets that need. Interestingly, we find that our long-term Duncan Hines consumers see Frosting Creations as an opportunity for more variety. They wouldn’t necessarily use it all the time but would buy it for special occasions.

Again, as long as you’re consistent with the essence of your brand you can satisfy both the new consumer while staying true to your current consumers.

Q: That is a great example. It’s noteworthy that the team had the conviction to make such a big business leap versus focusing on its core, or a near adjacency. What was the strategy behind that conviction?

BG: The question I always ask is, How do you know what is far enough to expand the brand’s reach and how do you know when you’ve gone too far and have compromised the brand’s character? One of the ways to think about it is, Is your innovation idea attracting new users into your consumer franchise or is it expanding your business with current consumers into new usage occasions?

I believe that focusing on one or the other at a time allows you to broaden your brand’s footprint while still maintaining a level of consistency. If you’re simultaneously doing both, you’ve probably strayed too far away from your brand.  The key to this is having a tight definition of your brand essence. Our understanding of the Duncan Hines brand gave us confidence that the introduction of Frosting Creations was a great fit…..

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