I love entrepreneurs. So meeting the dynamic duo behind Kashi was a personal highlight this fall at Prepared Foods’ 31st annual New Products Conference (NPC) in San Diego. Philip and Gayle Tauber delivered the opening keynote address: “Innovate Like an Emerging Company.”

They subsequently identified and discussed seven keys for successful new product development.

  1. Define the mission/vision of the project.
  2. Determine if and why the need exists.
  3. Believe your reality is changeable.
  4. Analyze the trends.
  5. Believe both you and your company can change.
  6. Believe unquestionably in your idea!
  7. Unlock the mind by sparking the instinct to innovate.

That said, I’m actually much more intrigued by the Taubers’ backstory, which is an inspiring tale of passionate business and brand development.

As a young married couple in 1970’s L.A., they started their first business. After identifying a need (and market gap), they created an indoor plants business with national sales; a network of maintenance and rental operators; and distribution to reach everywhere from business offices to supermarkets (where plants were sold). Along the way, they created several new, related products, such beaded macramé plant hangers and plastic lined baskets for plant and trees.

The Taubers sold that business and briefly partnered (in 1978) with Vince Gironda, a well-known Los Angeles bodybuilder, gym owner and trainer. Working with Gironda, the Taubers soon were at the forefront of private training, the first co-ed gym, as well as diet and supplement products for athletes.

Afterward, they moved to San Diego. With growing interest in physical fitness in the late 70s and early 80s, the Taubers tapped their nutritional knowledge and searched for a high-protein, high-complex carbohydrate, low-fat and -sodium natural food source. That was the beginning of Kashi cereal pilaf.

It’s important to note (as they have) that the Taubers weren’t out to create the next $1 billion brand (although it’s now approaching that at Kellogg). Instead, they simply and passionately pursued a niche market for athletes and nutrition-minded consumers.

That passion led them to several equally innovative “firsts” in marketing. They pioneered end-of-the-race feeding at athletic events. They partnered with and supported non-profits that also used athletic events to promote their cause. They also created the “Kashi army” of loyal, enthusiastic consumers -- long before social networking.

To me, these stories all go somewhat deeper and illustrate how to connect a brand to a consumer’s lifestyle needs -- whether it’s indoor greenery or whole grains. That’s where true innovation starts.