All Articles Food CPG How Nielsen's Breakthrough Innovation winners changed the game, and won

How Nielsen’s Breakthrough Innovation winners changed the game, and won

4 min read


You may think that dieting, parenting and innovation don’t have any core components in common, however that couldn’t be farther from the truth. All three have a surplus of books telling you how to succeed, but only a few of these guides actually work. To truly change innovation outcomes, the core beliefs of the innovation process must change first.

Nielsen’s studies of more than 17,000 new-product launches over the past three years have made it clear that innovation involves much more than wishful thinking and a few lucky charms. This year’s Breakthrough Innovation Award winners (and those of years past) have succeeded partly because they hate risk and uncertainty. So to eliminate the risk, they identify the unmet needs of the consumer to make products that get rid of those struggles forever.

To choose the 2014 Breakthrough Innovation Award winners, Nielsen studied more than 3,400 consumer-packaged-goods product launches in 2012. In all, 14 met the standards for distinctiveness, relevance and endurance needed to be considered the creme of the crop.

Who knew Nabisco’s belVita Breakfast Biscuit, a product so simple, would be able to break through where other products failed, even though many considered it to be “just a cookie.” Other products did not take into account that listening to consumers and understanding what they’re missing is the key ingredient to success. Real winners allow the consumers to define innovation and give up preconceptions about innovation.

Winners enter the category expansion level when they focus on consumers’ unmet demands and add a touch of strategic input to their innovation process. An impressive 50% of Breakthrough Winners’ sales, on average, are from category expansion. That means they bring new users into the category or address new circumstances of use — or both.

But staying on track is crucial. Realistically of course, winners know how to take their capabilities and match them with the struggles identified. They know if their demand-driven insight will exceed their capabilities and if the company will still support the innovation. However it’s important to know that forcing an innovation into legacy processes and resources may just doom it to failure.

“For precisely this reason,” Kraft breakthrough innovation vice president, Barry Calpino explained, “We abandoned our legacy innovation process designed by outside engineers. We replaced it with a process that, first, is designed by the process heavy users — including the marketers — who actually live with it and manage innovation projects and, second, has the appropriate innovation action standards that keep us true to the driving insight and are aligned with the desired outcomes.”

Finally, winners sustain focus well past launch — and not just focus on funding. Breakthrough innovators know that leaving hard-won lessons behind on the battlefield endangers any effort to build enduring systems that enjoy repeat success.

For example, in 2007, it seemed as though beer’s better days lay in the past, as young adults shifted away from the “pleasantly bitter” taste of beer in favor of sweeter, lighter alcoholic beverages such as flavored vodkas and new twists on tea and lemonade. In the face of such headwinds, Anheuser Busch’s Bud Light brand has launched not one but three major successes and two Breakthrough Winners, including Bud Light Lime-a-Ritas, one of this year’s winners that sold over half-a-billion dollars in two years.

It’s clear that concentrating on specific unmet needs, expanding categories and staying aligned on the insight from development to market is the floor plan for a successful foundation. Winners know that by completely changing the innovation process, risk and waste can be removed from the equation completely. Treating innovation like a management discipline is similar to manufacturing, HR and finance as it gives managers the opportunity to improve success rates and boost innovation investment.

Taddy Hall and Rob Wengel are both senior vice presidents of innovation at Nielsen


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