Taking a page from Silicon Valley

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

Taking a page from Silicon Valley

Related tags: Food

Shared economy-based tech startups like Uber and Airbnb may not seem to have much in common with a packaged food and beverage company. But even legacy-brand CPGs can learn from their entrepreneurial, collaborative approach to innovation—and get a leg up on our ever-faster-moving world, said creative strategies and branding expert Chris Cornyn.

Cornyn, who recently joined Oakland, Calif.-based Revolution Foods as chief innovation officer, told FoodNavigator-USA that his new Silicon Valley zip code inspired him to look to the tech world’s recent success with shared economies as a model for new food product innovation.

“Everything from Airbnb to Uber is focused on shared economies and part of where companies are investing and getting investments from venture capitalists,”​ Cornyn said. “That kind of influence triggered the thought that there must be wisdom there for the food industry.”

Revolution Foods—founded by two moms—provides 300,000 "real food"​ meals a day to schoolchildren in 25 cities, for just $3 apiece. The brand takes a disruptive approach to overhauling school food, by tweaking foods like hot dogs to be healthier, then involving the target market (students) in the recipe design. The brand recently expanded into boxed lunches, which are available in some 2,000 supermarkets nationwide.

In an effort to help fast-track new product innovation, Revolution recently forged a relationship with Mumzy, a crowdfunding site for moms looking to start businesses. Revolution seeks out “mom-preneur”​ product or service ideas that line up with its “Moms on a Mission”​ business philosophy and helps market the crowdfunding process, whether through funds or mentorship.

“Rather than seeing those new mom entrepreneurs as the enemy or somebody who’s going to take business away, we thought, what if we opened the doors to really smart part people outside our industry to create new food products?”​ Cornyn said. “We are considering having our co-founders help or mentor new moms on a path to disrupt the food world. … It is in our DNA and we want the movement to continue.” 

What if we opened the doors to really smart part people outside our industry to create new food products?

He noted that such logic may seem counterintuitive in the historically siloed CPG industry. But the world is moving far too fast for companies to spend so much time on research and development and product testing and approvals through each channel and across multiple states.

“More research doesn’t necessarily lead to better or more successful products,”​ he said. When you move quickly and you don’t overthink it and you put creative, entrepreneurial people together who can make connections, it changes the way services and goods are created.”

Part of it means taking risks and trusting intuition to spur a good idea, he says, using the example of Uber’s quick launch and subsequent (if improbable) rise. “Getting into a stranger’s car and giving them your credit card without knowing what kind of person they are or whether they know anything—would that have tested well with a focus group? No way,” ​he said with a laugh.

We're empowering consumers to show us their food lives

Revolution, for one, doesn’t rely on focus groups for new product testing. Instead, the brand recruits competitors’ customers and sends them to stores with their phones to shop the section that features Revolution’s products. Then they provide feedback via a short video on social media.

“We’re not asking them to give us any answers; we’re just empowering consumers to show us their food lives,”​ Cornyn said. “It’s very fast—we can get 100 competitor customers sending us their videos through social media. It’s also very scalable. It can be replicated in stores across the country for just a few thousand dollars.”

Similarly, it requires a willingness to forgo the historical approach. But it also empowers the consumer in new—and more authentic—ways, he added.

“We need to start to approach food innovation in a new way that may not be based on competition, but collaboration, to solve problems.”

Cornyn will be speaking at the inaugural Food Vision USA​ in Chicago on October 27-29. Have you signed up yet? Click here​ for more information.

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Related topics: Manufacturers

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