‘It’s a funnel, not a tunnel’: Premier Foods on embracing innovation fails

Premier Foods admits the company doesn’t always get innovation right the first time but that “reworking and restating is not failure, it’s just part of the process”.

Premier Foods

Premier Foods is behind innovations such as Mr Kipling Unicorn Slices and Sharwood’s oriental sauces but identifying those opportunities and growing them into successful products is a “tripled weighted” process.

Speaking at Marketing Week Live & Insight Show yesterday (6 March), Catherine Haigh, insight controller for sweet treats, and Philip Cox, insight controller, explained how it’s important to remember being innovative isn’t always easy but there are certain processes brands can put in place to achieve it.

“You often see stats saying two-thirds of innovations fail and there’s a reason for that. Innovation is actually really difficult,” Cox commented.

“But what we like to do at Premier Foods is have a clear process about how we go about finding those opportunities and growing them into great ideas.”

One of the processes Premier Foods focuses on is “feeding the fire”, which refers to building on a great idea and turning it into something consumers notice in the supermarkets, understand and purchase.

“A good idea is only the beginning. It’s a funnel, not a tunnel, but once you’re in that process it can be hard not to narrow yourself off,” said Cox.

“For instance, we have to make sure our packaging helps us communicate our message to people in-store because it’s such a noisy environment. We need to learn to close the loop and learn from what we get right and what we get wrong. There’s a huge amount of innovation fails.”

Identifying the innovation territory, immersing themselves in that territory and producing great concepts is a three-stage process Premier Foods follows in order to achieve successful innovations, Haigh explained.

Reworking and restating is not failure, it’s just part of the process of letting go, which can be extremely hard to do with big ideas, so it’s an important skill to have.

Philip Cox, Premier Foods

“Innovation needs to be triple weighted: we need to win for consumers; we need to win for our company – and it needs to be sizeable, profitable and incremental to our business because we don’t want to cannibalise against our current portfolio; and we need to win for customers [retailers] because they’re the gateway to the consumer,” she added.

“We’ve got a lot of shrinking fixtures at the moment and reduction in range so it’s important we prove our financial worth to the retailer.”

Using oriental sauces as an example, Haigh explained how Premier Foods worked alongside a consultancy that helped conduct research and gather important insights ahead of the launch.

READ MORE: Premier Foods’ Helen Warren-Piper on believing in the ‘product truth’ with Mr Kipling’s new campaign.

“We wanted to unlock the growth areas of oriental but weren’t sure how to do this. We worked with a consultancy and visited the Wagamama test kitchen where we tried different dishes, so there was a huge amount of additional spark added to the process,” she commented.

“A product was launched on the back of this, which was a range of Sharwood oriental sauces, ‘great for the two-person occasion’.”

Cox added: “This is an example that is very close to my heart because we didn’t necessarily get it right the first time and it was a combination of factors around getting to a two-person occasion because people don’t want to experiment with families and we had to make sure we pitched the right flavours.”

While Premier Foods eventually found success with oriental sauces, finding the right balance of knowing when to let go of a concept and when to defend the insight is key.

“You need to understand when, where and why the right time to compromise is,” Cox said. “Reworking and retesting is not failure, it’s just part of the process of letting go, which can be extremely hard to do with big ideas so it’s an important skill to have.”