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5 fundamentals for innovation in food: #3 inspiration comes...

5 fundamentals for innovation in food: #2 create experimental space

August 19, 2015 – by Marieke van der Heijden &samhoud food

Is your space innovation proof?

In this article I will continue with the second fundamental: how experimental space will support your innovation efforts and increase your chances of long-term success. The aim of this article is to illustrate this with concrete examples from practical experience in the food business, together with some hands-on exercises for you to start with today to let your innovative spirit flourish.

In most research around innovation, the impact of space is often neglected. However, surroundings are proven to be of huge impact on innovation. The well-known example and game-changer Steve Jobs intuitively saw how important space was to help people interact for innovation. He understood that people, and especially today’s working force, needspaces that enhance transparency and offer environments where the separation of work and home life is not so different. Nowadays, an increasing number of companies seem to have adopted these ideas (finally!) and improved their offices. But this still is not the standard, as I come across lots of uninspiring working places every day.

Space what?

What is considered as physical space for innovation? First of all, it’s about the place you do your work. This place should make the workforce feel at home and comfort people in such a way that they are able to perform at their best. In this space collaboration and new ideas are fostered, and it allows enough space to ‘think’ and reflect. The space should encourage a healthy lifestyle (e.g. by healthier food options, sports facilities ed). An interesting example comes from LEGO, where they have a green and a red room for decision-making. The green room is for open-minded brainstorming and out-of-the-box ideas: a ‘no’/cannot-attitude is not allowed in this room. The ideas are then literally transferred to the red room: this is where the best ideas are filtered by challenging the ideas and deliberately allow people to criticize them to make the ideas stronger and come to new insights.

However, experimental space for innovation is not just about the design of the office; it also implies where your office is located. You can imagine that being situated in a vibrant and inspiring environment helps to stimulate new insights and thoughts. It is no coincidence that most start-up accelerators create collaborative co-working spaces for their entrepreneurs. Physically being in the same environment with people working on different areas of expertise will open-up the spectrum. This is why start-ups tend to cluster together in areas so that knowledge spillovers occur. An extreme example of such an area is Silicon Valley, where the abundance of experience and access to knowledge lures in and fosters start-ups. 

An experimental space for food innovation

So, how does this translate back to experimental space for new food innovations? At &samhoud food, different environments are allowing us to do so.

First of all, I love our &samhoud food office. Somehow it feels funny that I classify it as an ‘office space’, as it is this beautiful old building with lots of light, art on every wall, different theme rooms, relaxing spaces ed. The space and the surroundings give me the energy to feel comfortable and perform at my best. Who can be innovative in a corporate cubicle anyway?

Second, our most important experimental space for innovation is our 2-michelin star restaurant &samhoud places in Amsterdam. Here, new combinations of taste and texture are created by talented chefs on a daily basis. They gain their inspiration from traveling to other continents and bringing back insights which they translate into new recipes for the restaurant. Their innovations are “tested” in the restaurant where they get immediate feedback from the customers to further perfect their creation. However, it is often hard to translate the innovations from a 2-michelin star kitchen into products suitable for the mainstream consumer market. Therefore, we take the concepts from the restaurant to our business development unit, where these concepts are then further developed into suitable concepts for retail and food services that are scalable for the mass market.

Third, as the world is our playground, we travel a lot to get inspired and create this experimental space around us! We just came back from India, where we were challenged to look at new food products without animal based proteins. This insight gave us inspiration to further develop our products and innovate them to become suitable for the Indian market. Next on the &samhoud food travel-agenda is a market exploration trip to the USA, to learn and experience this huge potential market.

Fourth, we use others experimental spaces for innovation. For example, for our food innovations we work a lot with one of our suppliers in the South of the Netherlands, in their innovation lab that is next to their factory. That’s where we learn on the spot.

Case example: Turn a consumer fair into an experimental space

Okay, in order to stimulate innovation you have to create your own experimental spaces and dare to try and experiment. Here’s how we did this at a consumer fair:
Last spring, we decided to launch the &Tomeato Burger at the biggest consumer event of the Netherlands, the so-called “Huishoudbeurs”. With over 240.000 visitors over nine days we saw this as a unique opportunity to create an experimental space with real-time interaction with potential customers. As it was the first time to participate in such a major event, we were not sure what to expect. Therefore we needed to create a flexible environment that allowed us to adapt to customer needs. For example, we created promotion materials (easy-to-print posters) that we could easily adapt to our strategies.
The first day of the event we kicked off with our promotions as planned. Our internal staff took care of the promotion, talking to customers, selling and preparing the products, to ensure that they were passionate about the product and brand. At the end of the day, we evaluated our approach and the every team member shared their best experience and new ideas to improve our proposition.
The second morning we implemented the suggestions from the day before. For example, we started small and simple and decided to lower the price of the product slightly, which immediately resulted in increased sales. We concluded that our price had been a bit too high compared to other stand holders on the fair. At the end of day two, we evaluated again and the results had improved compared to the first day, but we realised that other competitors were using tastings as a way to seduce their customers. Our first belief had been that people would just come to taste ‘free food’ and then walk away; we were proved to be wrong.
On day three, we started with tasting sessions and saw the immediate positive response from our consumers. We discovered that people were more willing to buy our products when they had tasted it first. In addition, we received direct feedback on how they perceived the product. 

This is how we continued. As it was a nine-day event, every day we evaluated, and we tweaked our promotion strategy to see how consumers responded to it, evaluate and then try again. On our best day six times as much as on the first day. We learned an incredible number of lessons in those nine days of experimentation. Way more than at any other consumer test panel we tried before, and it appeared to be lots of fun too!

5 tips to create more experimental space

Inspired to improve your own experimental space? These 5 tips will get you started.

  1. Is your office not the best place to get inspired? Go out there (literally: go-out-of-the-box), work at shared office spaces, or even better: find places where customers interact with your product or service.
  2. Gather some colleagues and arrange a brainstorm on quick improvements that can be made to make your office a greater place to work. Some things will be easy to change and improve the collaborative spirit! Use the LEGO way of brainstorming, during the brainstorming session agree that you must reply with: “Yes and..” and cannot say “no” or have a cannot attitude towards ideas.
  3. Challenge yourself to change your environment now and then, and you will notice that you get more inspiration for new ideas.
  4. Find space where messiness is accepted. Embrace “messiness is good”, it allows for quick proto-typing. Have a place where you can scribble on the wall, hang your latest inspiration, experiment with new ideas.
  5. Take a different route to work once in a while. What do you see that inspires you? Have you noticed new things?

Related videos

What’s next?

The five fundamentals for innovation are building blocks that support each other, just a good-looking office is not enough. It also needs the right spirit and tools to support interactions.

This article series presents five fundamentals to be aware of in any innovation ‘adventure’, big or small. Insights stem from extended research combined with practical experience. Each fundamental is presented with concrete examples and provides tangible tools to get you started. In this publication the first fundamental is presented to you, the subsequent fundamentals will follow:

Fundamental 1: Become a resilient leader
Fundamental 2: Find experimental space
Fundamental 3: Inspiration comes from everywhere
Fundamental 4: Do move fast and flexible
Fundamental 5: Value harmony and empathy

In the coming weeks, this series will be published where the next fundamental for innovation in food is presented. In the meantime, use the personal questions and tools as inspiration to build a strong fundament for innovation. I am looking forward to hear about your experiences! Please keep me informed at m.vanderheijden@samhoud.com

Business Innovation Culture, Singapore, www.bic.sg

More information
For more information about &samhoud food, visit samhoudfood.com or follow us on facebook: facebook.com/samhoudfood

This is an article in the &samhoud Inspiration series: “5 fundamentals for innovation in food”



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