3 Keys to Food Innovation at Campbell Soup Company

The skyrocketing demand for “real” food has led Campbell Soup Company to ramp up its innovation practices. Here's how this iconic brand is thriving.

At Campbell Soup Company, food innovation is about more than just adapting to changing preferences. The skyrocketing demand for “real” food has led Campbell to increase its focus on innovating to find new sources of value, beyond just incremental improvements.

At the Catalant Velocity Summit, Craig Slavtcheff shared insights from Campbell’s innovation evolution. Slavtcheff, who is Executive Vice President of Research & Development at Campbell, said the company’s innovation journey started when consumer preferences took a radical turn away from the scientific progress that began when Napoleon first offered a prize for the inventor of canned food.

What consumers are asking us to do is flip on its head 150 years of innovation in the span of a decade. If you pause to think about that, it’s not easy to do. And so it required new tools for us.

-Craig Slavtcheff, Executive Vice President, Research & Development, Campbell Soup Company

Speed to market became a priority. In a world where new platform innovations typically take 24 months to go from idea to reality, Campbell sought to accelerate the cycle to keep pace with demand. Of course, the company needed to maintain its commitment to food safety, affordability, and other core criteria at the same time.

To get there, Campbell focuses on three key strategies:

  • Speed to Insight
  • Speed to Design
  • Speed to Execution

Speed to Insights

Global food companies like Campbell Soup Company typically engage outside research firms to get the latest insights on food trends. From there they might develop a group of new products to test. After another 18 months of development of those products, the original research information is already outdated as new food fads and diets come and go more quickly in the social media age.

Campbell has deployed a different approach. The company has partnered with external firms to use advanced analytics powered by artificial intelligence to drive real-time insights on culinary and health trends, shopping trends, and other signals. Those signals can be used by marketing and R&D teams to plan new products.

The net result is that the cost of generating insights is far less expensive and key people in the innovation process always have up-to-date information to refer to when shepherding new products through the development pipeline.

Speed to Design

To get faster at product design, Campbell leaders first sought to “rewire” the organization. All brands and portfolios are ranked by their expected contributions to the company’s growth expectations. Brands in growth mode then invest more of their R&D pipeline into innovation.

Campbell has also embraced agile methodology, though Slavtcheff acknowledges the word’s overuse. While some organizations claim to be “agile” because they work in isolated design sprints, Campbell has taken a much more comprehensive approach by tightly enforcing an agile process on every platform innovation across all brands.

“We’ve hardwired the organization and built teams around that for the entire pipeline. And the reason we did this is, the beauty of agile methodology is that it breaks down complex problems into workable sub-problems, that you can then go source resources and skills to get them solved,” he says.

The focus on agile has paid dividends. For example, an initiative to create a grain free tortilla chip (perfect for those trendy keto diets) was broken down into nearly two dozen smaller problems. Once the problems were manageably small, the teams could focus their resources more effectively. The result was the discovery that the tiger nut was a key ingredient that would allow grain-free chips to be manufactured and eat like their corn-based cousins.

Speed to Execution

The future of food is changing all the time. To keep up, the team at Campbell knew it needed to execute faster on food innovation. The organization’s agile approach has paid dividends in execution as well. Campbell has dramatically reduced the time-to-market on new products from 24 months to 9 months in some instances.

Campbell’s innovation approach is rewriting the story of an iconic brand. By looking outside of its industry for inspiration, capitalizing on advances in technology, and focusing on speed to insights, design, and execution, Campbell Soup Company is well-positioned to serve the rapidly-changing tastes of consumers.

“This is a recognition that we cannot run the same play we’ve been running for the past 150 years. By breaking down our process and focusing on speed to insight, design, and execution, we’re finding and eliminating the blockers that slowed us down before and unlocking a lot of speed in our innovation pipeline,” says Slavtcheff.

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