“About three years ago we embarked on a more lean, streamlined approach to innovation, going from large batch bigger and more expensive tests to validate concepts with traditional stage gate processes to something much more iterative and agile. We’re getting feedback on the actual product – not just the concept – at a much earlier stage from consumers and [retail] customers.
“We’re also adjusting in market if early velocities are not what we expected. So our execution has become more agile as well in the last few years.”
When it comes to consumer insights, speed is now of the essence, with a wide variety of tools now available to get rapid feedback on everything from packaging design to new concepts, he adds.
“It’s really changed our game and reduced our time and cost to market.”
Not everything the brand has touched has turned to CPG gold, but it now has a process that enables it to tap into emerging trends more quickly, says DiFalco.
A good example is ‘Bubble Fruit’ – shelf-stable fruit cups featuring popping boba (a spin-off from traditional boba in the form of mini balls with a thin, gel-like skin with juice inside that pops in your mouth) – which are doing really well with tweens, he reveals.
“Experiential snacking is so big now, and the customer and consumer response has been beyond expectations, so we’re now looking at what can we do to elevate and expand that range because we’re also seeing a lot of social media activity with people sharing the fun that they are having with the product, which is unique in the market.”
‘Veggies are more celebrated now’
Another recent innovation is the Veggieful sub-brand – launched in 2019 – featuring frozen veggie bites with veggies and cheeses baked in a crust with cauliflower, and shelf-stable microwaveable veggie grain bowls with quinoa, riced cauliflower, and beans that can be eaten hot or cold, he says.
“Veggies are more celebrated now, and I think the barriers have lowered a bit," says DiFalco. "It’s early days, but we’re very happy with the performance in market so far.”
When it comes to fruit cups, Del Monte saw a big opportunity in adult snacking around four years ago, recalls DiFalco.
“We were doing great with what we call middle of the day snacks and kids’ lunchboxes, but what about breakfast snacks, and early and late afternoon snacks?
“So we developed fruit refreshers to elevate the fruit cup with more adult-oriented flavors, larger cups and premium packaging; and then fruit & chia; and finally fruit & oats, which took us into the breakfast category, the first shelf-stable ready to eat oatmeal that’s already fully-cooked, which was no small feat. Most recently we launched fruit crunch parfaits [refrigerated non-dairy snacks featuring fruits, granola, probiotics and coconut crème].”
Moving forward, he says, “Our base business is very important and continues to grow, but frozen and the store perimeter are very important to us as we move forward and definitely a focus of what me and my team are working on. We’re still rooted in fruits and veggies, but we’re thinking of them more as a solution, a snacking solution, or meal prep.”