Food & Beverage Companies Can Succeed. With Product Innovation.

Product Innovation. For some, this is an easier term to type than to accomplish. Knowing this, we invited the VP of Innovation & Product Development at U.S. Foods to tell our members her best practices.

Stacie Sopinka, the keynote speaker at our monthly Innovation Series Breakfast on September 14, successfully extended U.S. Foods' innovation footprint into new channels. She and her team have also increased awareness of sustainably sourced foods within the market.

How did she do it?

Sopinka shared several insightful strategies, successes and lessons. She left our sold out crowd with these ten-ways to succeed through product innovation:

1. Create a long-term strategy. Identify key drivers.

What’s most important -- beyond the corporate strategy -- is having a development plan. Know exactly what you are trying to accomplish.

2. Form Strategic Partnerships. Build trust.

You never know where a new partnership will start. Meet with different people as much as you can. As you form relationships, you’re going to hit hurdles. In the end, it’s about building trust and having the tough talks about what works and what doesn’t.

3. Determine your target market. Know when to jump on a trend.

Do your research to help you find trends and whether or not they are on the way ‘in’ or ‘out’. You don’t want to jump on too early or too late.

4. Take calculated risks.

Having diverse perspectives at the table is essential to the development process. Look at each opportunity and/or risk through various lenses. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope.

5. Move quickly or get left behind.

It’s a concept that many of us struggle with, but it’s so important. Trend cycles move quickly. If you take too much time, your product will be redundant when it finally hits the market.

6. Engage key stakeholders in the process. Remain open to feedback.

Feedback is a gift. Partnering with people offering different perspectives can positively impact the development process.

7. Avoid ‘Design by Committee’.

While feedback is a gift, there must be a clear vision of what the product stands for and what problem it’s solving. You’ll lose your way if there are too many voices. Stay flexible, but only when receiving new information.

8. Identify the problem you are solving for your customer.

Start with a scope. Understand why you’re developing your product. You must figure out first what place this product has in the ecosystem.

9. Tell people about the product’s provenance.

Telling the product’s story is a great way to engage customers. Tell your product story in any way you can: like when training your sales team or when talking to marketing. These departments will creatively pass these stories onto customers.

10. Be prepared for Murphy’s Law.

Product development is full of pitfalls. You use your thick skin to sell your ideas, now you need that thick skin when things go wrong. Because things will go wrong. Be resilient and keep moving.  

Sopinka was full of real-world answers to many audience questions. You too can join us at our next Chicagoland Food & Beverage Network Innovation Breakfast on October 12. The discussion: Food entrepreneurs,start up investments, and Food 2.0.

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