Thinking “inside the box” is usually safe and not particularly controversial.

However, reputations are built and often the greatest financial rewards occur, when someone thinks “outside the box” to develop creative solutions for customers. Examples on the new products front include the teams who won our 2003 Spirit of Innovation Awards: Schwan's with a single-serve, microwaveable, stuffed pizza slice and Wells' Dairy with an inverted, “pop out,” packaged sundae with a topping that melts first. (See PF October 2003.)

Such “out-of-the-box” thinking means taking new perspectives to day-to-day tasks and a willingness to do things differently. How is such talent developed?

I do not believe the ability to generate innovative product concepts or customer solutions is innate to an individual. It can be developed and encouraged by exposure to novel ideas and experiences, by teaching someone to consider problems and tasks within a wider environmental context, and by giving access to such learning occasions.

Providing such an educational opportunity is the driving force underlying the design of Prepared Foods' New Products Conference agenda. Here are a few examples of the speakers and events that will take place October 10-13, 2004, in Scottsdale, Ariz.:

  • Kati Friz-Jung, vice president of R&D, The Schwan Food Co., will provide insights on product development initiatives.

  • Brian Averna, corporate executive chef, Sara Lee Foods, offers ideas on what, how and where consumers will eat and the role foodservice products will play.

  • Global New Products Database (GNPD) consultants Lynn Dornblaser and David Jago will not only discuss the top trends affecting new food products globally, but will arrange to have over 35 significant new products from around the globe available for sampling.

  • Steven Steinborn, partner, Hogan & Hartson LLP, will offer information on the changing regulatory landscape impacting food formulations to label claims.

  • Valerie Skala Walker, vice president of marketing, Information Resources Inc. (IRI), analyzes which landmark products influenced consumer eating patterns, and how they may foretell future successes.

  • Kraft Foods' vice president of research, Todd Abraham and Pizza Hut's vice president of R&D, Leah Evans Helferich, are stepping in to help educate us on the big picture—the macroeconomic to technological environment that will impact new product development in the coming decade.

    As a cartoon once noted, there is only one good reason to teach someone to think inside the box…when training a cat to use kitty litter.