There are three ways to look at innovation—with hindsight, with insight and with foresight. Hindsight allows you to see and learn from product trial successes and/or failures. Meanwhile, one of my favorite events, Prepared Foods’ New Products Conference, strives to provide insight for the now; and foresight—for the not yet (future). 

Visit and to view our late September 2016 agenda where all speakers addressed “Disruptive Innovation.” Here, meanwhile, are a few thoughts from keynote presenters.

Insight (for now)
IRI Chairman Rick Lenny brings proven boardroom insight and expertise. He previously was chairman, president and CEO of The Hershey Company, president of Nabisco Biscuit Company, and president of Pillsbury, North America. 

Admitting that big food lost its innovation edge to smaller players, he encouraged attendees to embrace “Big I” innovation with a holistic (not sequential) approach to R&D. He also advocated for pricing to the market (not to cost structure or margin requirements) and that Year Two new product support is non-negotiable. He cautioned that one company’s adjacent category is a competitor’s core (RIP: Anheuser-Busch’s Eagle snacks). Even so, he encouraged attendees to pursue entirely new platforms (think Kashi, Swiffer, Lunchables) with relevant brands and products that are extendable over time. 

For more IRI insights, consider attending the IRI Growth Summit, April 3-5, 2017, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, Tenn.

Disrupting the yogurt category has been Koel Thomae, co-founder of Noosa Yoghurt LLC, Bellvue, Colo. As Prepared Foods’ Wednesday keynote speaker, Thomae spoke of creating an entirely different product (thicker texture; distinctive, on-trend flavors) with category-disruptive packaging (flatter tub, fun graphics). Today finds Noosa growing (with bigger investment backing) and expanding into snacking with a “sweet heat” line of fruit-and-pepper flavor profiles. Meanwhile, Thomae herself continues leading, learning, tasting and traveling—in search of Noosa’s next brand-relevant product idea.

Foresight (for near future)
Setting the stage for this year’s New Products Conference was Nancy Giordano, founder of Play Big Inc., Austin, Texas. A leading “futurist strategist” with food industry consulting experience (Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Safeway, Chili’s), Giordano talked about disruption impacting everyone from consumers to corporations alike.

Her premise is that old systems are breaking down and consumers and companies alike find themselves in a “big shift” where new, obvious systems have yet to be created. It’s a time—particularly for manufacturers—when consumers demand more quality, innovation, transparency, speed and personalization. Even so, those consumers have less time, energy, money, brand loyalty and patience for complexity.

So what do today’s consumers actually want? Giordano connected the dots—from consumer insights to artificial intelligence—and gave attendees several suggestions. Consumers, she said, are interested in and/or concerned about authenticity and truth, plant-based proteins, food waste (and/or re-use), sustainable agriculture (using less water/pesticides), alternate food forms (such as Soylent), and even printed food (where pizzas can be personalized by shape). Meanwhile, food incubators and venture capital groups are springing up to encourage new third-tier companies with creative ideas.

A pet passion for her, Giordano closed by encouraging attendees to think bigger and beyond the supermarket shelf. 

“Foods and ingredients have the potential to address big societal concerns,” she said. 

Perhaps there’s no greater market disruption than the ground-shaking change within the retail and foodservice distribution channels. Tuesday’s keynote speaker was Barb Stuckey, chief innovation officer at Mattson (, a Foster City, Calif., consumer insights, branding and product development firm. Stuckey outlined how online technology and new concepts have transformed—and will transform—consumer spending and mealtime eating behaviors. 

Whereas consumer restaurant options used to be dine-in, carry-out or delivery (pizza, Chinese), they evolved (second wave) to third party meal delivery services such as Grubhub and UberEATS. Meanwhile, an even newer third wave is emerging with custom meal creation and delivery firms such as Sprig (San Francisco), Maple (New York City) and Eat Purely (Chicago). 

Stuckey outlined similar seismic shifts in retail, where a host of second wave businesses and subscription services—including Instacart, Peapod, Google, Amazon Fresh, Graze and Nibblr—already give consumers more reasons to stay home. Meanwhile, even more third wave options—such as Blue Apron, Plated and Home Chef—make at-home meal prep even more convenient.