How Heinz Innovates to Reinvent the Humble Baked Beans

by Jeffrey Tobias

How Heinz Innovates to Reinvent the Humble Baked Beans - Innovation ExcellenceAs part of our Innovators series, we caught up with Catriona Giffard, Research and Development Director at KraftHeinz to find out how they used Lean Startup and Design Thinking to find out what their customers really want.

There would be few Aussie adults without fond childhood memories of baked beans on toast or ‘jaffles’* for weekend lunch. Australians devour more than 40 million tins a year of Heinz Baked Beanz and yet, as kids grow into young adults and their tastes shift, their consumption of the tomato sauce-covered legumes falls away.

In 2012, the Australian company that is now KraftHeinz set out to redefine the humble tinned bean to attract a new breed of consumer – and lure back those who had drifted away in their 20s.

The story of innovation to reimagine baked beans at KraftHeinz resonates with innovation leaders no matter their industry. And, it has Design Thinking at the heart.

Catriona Giffard says it wasn’t a straight line from the beans Aussies know and love to an innovative new product. Giffard, who is Research and Development Director at KraftHeinz in Melbourne says, “it was a long journey to ultimate success”. And she points to an essential tension in the creation of new beans: “We have to be innovative in a conservative portfolio”.

Giffard brings a unique perspective to the beans portfolio – she began her career in pet care with Mars Inc based at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in the UK before coming to Australia. The combination of her international experience and research across product lines (and even species) has given her insights that she now applies to her work where there are clear parallels.

“Owners have such strong bonds with their pets,” Giffard says. “We had to provide all the key nutrients from a single food source that the pet eats and deliver the product at the right price.”

And similar to the caring relationship owners have with their pets she says, “Mums tend to return to beans because of their inherent natural goodness”. The problem for beans consumption comes when young adults mature and “they start to explore new tastes and want to be more experimental so beans can be forgotten about”.

This insight led to the idea of gourmet beans to track a person’s tastes as they matured. But it was a rocky road to match that gut instinct to a product that resonated with consumers. She puts teething problems with the first iterations of gourmet beans down to a “simplistic” understanding of consumer needs. “We thought consumers would want slightly more exciting baked beans like brunch in a café but at home.”

The first attempt was gourmet beans in metallic pouches but consumers were not as enthusiastic as hoped. The range was compromised by a fast-track market launch coupled with minimal marketing support and education on the new product. As a result, the range failed to meet expectations.

“The reality was the premium range appealed to very few consumers.”

At this point, some organisations would conclude there was no appetite for a new range and move onto a new idea but, in true Lean Startup style, KraftHeinz saw hope for the category and went back to the drawing board.

“We weren’t totally off the mark,” says Giffard, who was encouraged by some early customer observations and the vision of what they were trying to achieve. The Australians turned to their UK colleagues where baked beans is a major product line for clues about how to recast the project.

Importantly, the Europeans spent time asking consumers what they wanted and integrating these insights into the design of the product. This empathetic, Design Thinking-led approach enabled the company to narrow in on what mattered and so cut risk.

Giffard’s team learned that consumers wanted an affordable, healthy and tasty product to liven up midweek meals.

Cooking up a sustainable innovation culture at Heinz

Today, these ‘Heinz Beanz Creationz’ live on the shelf in Fiery Mexican, Medium Salsa, Spanish Style, Mediterranean and Mild Curry flavours. Giffard says that this time around, KraftHeinz learned from its previous marketing missteps and listened to its consumers.

The results have exceeded expectations with a greater than 4 per cent share in the category within six weeks of launch and 58 per cent were incremental sales. Critically, Beanz Creationz attracted the key demographic of ‘SINKS’ and ‘DINKS’ (single-income/double-income no kids). Giffard says it’s tracking to exceed these growth targets in 2016.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We didn’t throw away the idea; we picked it up and worked with it again. In that [initial] underperformance we were able to take the learnings from the UK market and adapt it in Australia.That’s why it was such an interesting journey, because every launch we learned how to make it better.”

Giffard expects to see more transcontinental collaboration between branches of the food multinational while working with consumers to define new products is “absolutely imperative”, she says.

Design Thinking and The Lean Startup fundamental to successful innovation

Giffard attributes her success to those early days working in pet food science in Britain.

“The iteration from one part of the world to another was driven by connections I have,” she says. “Otherwise it would have been slower. Convenience, taste, health – when you deliver to those three factors in an economical way at the right price point the chance of success rises significantly. Now we’re being more open engaging in consumer-validation at each step along the design and innovation process.”

She says that in the past the company, “didn’t have that conversation with the consumer”

“Make time to get it right at the beginning; that’s fundamental. And you need to continue to clarify and validate your product proposition with consumers and listen to their feedback … rather than carry on regardless.”

Without labelling their process, Catriona and her team had applied principles from each of The Strategy Group’s preferred innovation methods:

  • Design Thinking – empathising with customers by observing them interacting with products and asking for their opinions
  • Open Innovation – drawing from other innovation projects elsewhere in the group to improve their team’s understanding of what was required for success
  • Lean Startup – testing and learning from new product experiments to iteratively refine the final product to meet consumer preferences.

Giffard’s story of iterative learning to reinvent this mature and much-loved category, shows us the value of empathising with your customers and adapting as you go.

If Giffard can innovate around the humble baked bean, imagine what you can do if you apply these principles in your organisation.

* A traditional Australian toasted sandwich; originates from the brand name of a popular 1950s toaster.

image credit: telegraph.co.uk


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Jeffrey TobiasJeffrey Tobias’ career in the application of information technology, strategy and innovation has spanned academia, consulting, big and small business, government, research and entrepreneurship. He is Director of The Strategy Group, delivering strategic advice on Innovation, Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Ideation, Collaboration and Globalisation to corporations and governments, and is an active Angel Investor in the technology space.

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