Prepared Foods talks innovation strategy with Galit Feinreich founder and principal consultant at Little Wave Co., Los Angeles. Feinreich’s 20+ year career spans a range of companies from start-ups to multinationals across industries from enterprise software to sports nutrition and food. She developed expertise in innovation and renovation of products, processes and organizations. Current and recent clients to her consulting practice include Dole Packaged Foods, Nature’s Bakery and Cremo Company.

 At a Glance: Galit Feinreich 

2018-Present: Founder, Principal Consultant, Little Wave Co.
2017-2018: Chief Marketing Officer, Ready Pac Foods / Bonduelle Fresh Americas 
2016-2017: Director of Innovation, Ready Pac Foods
2004-2016: Marketing Consultant-Innovation, Nestlé 
2001-2004: Marketing Manager, Interwoven
1999-2001: Director of Advertising,
MBA, Marketing, Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California 
BA, Communication, University of California, San Diego

Feinreich joins Prepared Foods’ New Products Conference on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 to lead a hands-on innovation workshop from 1-2 pm EST.
Learn More & Register.

Prepared Foods:  You have a fascinating background and story related to innovation. Please describe your transition from college to a marketing role with Nestlé Snacks & Confections? 

Galit Feinreich: Thank you! I have certainly enjoyed the journey. I'd describe my path as one of exploration, discovery and good fortune.  I grew up in the days before tiger parents, so I had no idea what jobs existed in the world and really didn't get much guidance. After college, I was hired into a management training program at a retail department store chain. I found that I loved business and management—but working retail days and hours—not so much. 

A few years later, wanting to expand my horizons, I left the country and took a sales job at an airplane parts supplier overseas. My fluent English made me stand out and I quickly became their de-facto marketer. Marketing and I experienced love at first sight and the following year, I decided to return to the US to pursue an MBA in hopes of honing my skills.  I correctly figured that being fluent in English might not carry the same “wow factor” back in the states.

I was recruited by Nestlé right out of business school, which was every marketer's dream job. I had the good fortune of joining the Confections and Snacks division in a seasonal marketing role. It meant working on Halloween, Christmas, Valentines and Easter versions of all the Nestle candy brands.  At that time, most marketers dreaded being assigned to the seasonal business as it had almost no marketing budget, and none of the prestige of being in charge of a well-known brand such as Butterfinger, Crunch or SweeTarts. 

PF: Is that when you first started thinking about new product innovation? 

Feinreich: For someone like me who was drawn to innovation, it was the perfect spot. It was a highly under-developed business with customers and consumers hungry for new items. Plus, I had an extremely capable cross-functional team at my disposal. I had much more energy than good sense in those days, so in my very first season, we launched an unprecedented 16 new items and I made a reputation for myself in innovation. 

PF: But that didn’t last long right? Your career took other directions?  

Feinreich: Right. I was seduced away by a new dotcom startup in San Francisco where my career accelerated much faster than it could at a big CPG company. As head of advertising, I helped launch a real estate portal with a massive user base. During that time, I saw the company successfully acquired twice in three years. After the second sale, I was hired by an enterprise software company to help them expand into new verticals. 

I continued telecommuting to that job once I moved back to LA—but then with a husband and baby in tow.  Sometime later, I had a call from the head of Nestlé Seasonal Confections, who needed someone who knew the unique ins and outs of that business to run it for six months while she went on maternity leave. 

I missed working on “real” products and jumped at that chance.  And that is how I kicked off my consulting business with Nestlé as my amazing first client.  Since successful innovation was in high demand, that one maternity leave turned into more than 12 amazing years of great projects and countless new product launches.    

PF: Recapping your Nestlé experience, what were your roles and some noteworthy innovations? What are you most proud of? 

Feinreich: My innovation roles with Nestle evolved during my 12 years there. Those roles shifted from Seasonal Confections, to Power Bar, to “Sugar Candy” (Nerds, SweeTarts and Laffy Taffy) —and then to white space innovation and M&A work.  

I have a lot of “favorite children” from those years.  One was a line of candy-filled Easter eggs called “Hard to Find Egg Hunt.” I invented it to help moms keep Easter egg hunts challenging, fun and fair for older kids and their younger siblings. I can talk about that one for hours if not actively stopped from doing so. (Consider yourself warned.)

A few other standouts are Crunch Girl Scout Candy Bars (the one inspired by Thin Mints was delicious and only required one unique ingredient at the plant) and Skinny Cow Candy (which won a Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Award for sustained high revenues.)  

When my kids were little, they were most impressed by a new flavor of Nerds I developed. They told all their school friends that their mom invented Nerds, and as a result, I received a rock star’s welcome on career day.

PF: What was it like to go to Ready Pac Foods in 2016-2017 and start leading their food scientists and culinary experts? What was most exciting aspect of it? What did you learn most about yourself?

Feinreich: I know this is hard to believe, but when I put my consulting business on pause to head the innovation team at Bonduelle (then Ready Pac Foods), I didn't realize I'd be running R&D.  My misunderstanding was probably a blessing, as I may have been intimidated and missed one of the most gratifying chapters of my career.  In my first week, our head of Food Safety came over (excited to have a new counterpart) and started asking me my thoughts on how we should approach FSMA. I excused myself to use the restroom and Googled “FSMA” in the bathroom stall. So that was exciting—in the worst way.  

But soon after, I understood my purpose in heading this group. It was to fully harness their incredible potential, align their work to the company's vision, get them exposure to and from the executive team, and help transform the company into an innovation powerhouse. 

By the time I returned to my consulting practice, we had entered profitable new segments beyond salad and were generating more than 13% of annual revenue from new items. What I learned about myself is that lacking depth of knowledge can actually make you a more effective leader. With this highly talented and educated group of food scientists and culinary experts, I simply couldn't get into the weeds. That forced me to think strategically and practice servant leadership where my primary role was to help clear obstacles for them. 

I also learned that you really CAN gain 20 pounds working at a salad company.

PF: With Bonduelle, you later held a chief marketing officer role and were responsible for both marketing and R&D.  Was it unique to have such a title and role with those particular groups?  What products are you most proud of from this overall period, from 2016 to 2018?

Feinreich: I have worked and consulted at quite a few companies in my career and I can say that this structure—where the chief marketing officer oversees both marketing and R&D—is very unique. However, it probably shouldn't be.

In my observations, you can have the smartest scientists or engineers on the planet, and they can be working on incredibly cool things, but none of that matters if they are not getting the right access to information or they are not communicating in the "love language" of their various business audiences. 

These folks determine what does and does not move forward and often there are real barriers when it comes to the flow of information back and forth. Having one leader to bridge that divide and ensure smooth handoffs in the commercialization process can be incredibly valuable. 

I'm extremely proud of the products we developed. We launched some incredible Bistro Bowls (single-serve salads) and found ways to incorporate ingredients nobody else was using such as roasted beets, cornbread croutons and pulled pork.  On the foodservice side, we developed Wrap Kits that are used by the second largest purveyor of deli sandwiches in the US after Subway. They used these kits to make sandwich wraps and improve food safety, employee safety, nutrition and their bottom line. 

We also expanded into warm meals with Heat & Eat Harvest Bowls with minimal investment in capital.  And while renovation doesn't get the attention of its sexier sibling, I also am proud of a clean label initiative we completed while simultaneously cutting millions in annual ingredient costs. That was an incredible cross-functional team effort. 

PF: Let’s finish by talking for a second about your upcoming New Products Conference workshop. 

Where do you think companies most often get “stuck” with innovation? Where do you see disconnects between innovation, marketing and how they connect with consumers?

Feinreich: In my experience, the biggest challenges to innovation are often right under an organization's nose, but can seem counter intuitive. 

Here's one example: How you write up a concept to test with consumers is as important as what you are testing.  And, spoiler alert:  "traditional" concept structure no longer works with many of today's most lucrative consumers. And yes, I'm talking about everyone's favorite: Millennials. 

Here's another example: a company might run a fantastic brainstorm session that generates a bunch of great ideas but they might unwittingly kill off their best ideas at the end of the session. This is what I call "death by stickers." Those are just two of many areas where companies might feel like they are doing everything right, but are still not getting the results they want. 

In addition, if companies are investing in R&D—but don't have a glide path for ideas to emerge from R&D and be commercialized successfully—they are likely to get frustrated with that lack of ROI.  But then, they might be asking the wrong questions—or worse yet, not asking questions—and end up cutting budgets and programs, instead of making fixes. Often, the sticking points are relatively easy to unlock with minor adjustments to structure, process and expertise. 

I promise I will provide very specific examples and actionable ideas in my workshop. My goal is for people to leave the workshop with inspiration and some great new ideas and tools that they can put into practice to jump-start successful innovation the minute they get back to work. 

Feinreich joins Prepared Foods’ New Products Conference on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 to lead an innovation master class from 1-2 pm EST.
Learn More and Register.