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Disruptive innovation in the food industry

Recently I have been invited to speak about creativity for business innovation at the food and innovation conference here in Dublin.

Despite being Italian, let me admit that I don’t know much about food, but this didn’t turn me down as my work (creativity for business) is about food for thoughts rather than real food.

So let me share with you the case I made at the conference.

Modena, my hometown, is famous all around the world for its balsamic vinegar.

Given the time, the art and the skill required to produce it, balsamic vinegar tends to be a luxury product. Obviously, nowadays, you can find the cheap version of it at your local discount store, but I wouldn’t classify it as balsamic.

Incremental innovation: for years Italian producers (mostly families) have refined the processes of production, and improved the quality of the final product. The result was the creation of a line of goods, a classic example of incremental innovation.

The problem: the more stars you see on the bottle, the more expensive it is, therefore reducing the overall number of customers interested in purchasing.

What if, on the other hand, producers were trying to grow their business by opening up new markets?

Incremental innovation won’t work, they needed to embrace disruptive innovation.

Disruptive innovation: opening up the U.S. market. Italian families wouldn’t have had a chance to serve the US market unless they stopped to think incrementally.

Human centred design is the key here. Rather than spending the time within their premises, someone in the family went over to the US and started to observe the potential customer over there.

Guess what, Americans are used to dress their food by using squeezy bottles, e.g. ketchup and mayo. Try to do that by using a fancy glass bottle. It won’t work.

Only after having observed the new customers in their native environment, Italian producers of balsamic vinegar were able to come up with disruptive innovation.

The ketchup of vinegar: Balsamic Glaze.

The Balsamic Glaze is not a better product or version of the balsamic vinegar; it involves much cheaper costs and a fraction of time for production. If you don’t trust me, try to argue the opposite with the founder of any traditional balsamic vinegar company and observe the reaction. Good luck with it.

Today incremental innovation has been applied to the new concept of the Balsamic Glaze, and you can now purchase it with different flavours: classic, white, fig, truffle, etc.

As for my previous post, disruptive and incremental innovation are not mutually exclusive, but rather they complement one another. I hope this post provided you with a real case example showing this.

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