Thursday, February 28, 2013

Campbell’s CEO Shares Recipe for Innovation

Soup Ain't So Simple...

The author's nephew with his soup
By Marc Dresner, IIR USA

It may not be spelled out in her job description, but a critical part of Denise Morrison’s responsibilities as CEO of the Campbell Soup Company is to keep my nephew happy.

If anything were to happen to Campbell’s chicken noodle soup in the iconic red-and-white can, the little guy might actually go on a hunger strike!

Ok, I may be exaggerating a bit, but I’d bet you that messing with this classic would almost certainly doom this kid—and countless other little boys and girls—to a dreary subsistence on PB&J and bologna or whatever today’s nutritionally correct proxy may be. Tofu?

Either way, when you’re in the second grade, there’s just no substitute for the satisfaction of slurping those squiggly noodles swimming in a bowl of warm, golden goodness.

When I was a half-pint I loved the stuff so much that I took it to school in a thermos almost every day. No smashed sandwich in a brown bag for me. No way.

I’ve since graduated to Campbell’s more sophisticated menu.

My current addiction: Coconut Curry with Chicken & Shiitake Mushrooms from Campbell’s new “Go” line.

“M’m! M’m! Good!”? You bet.

But if I’m going to be completely honest, the recipe wasn’t what hooked me; it was the packaging—this soup comes in a pouch!

So I slip it in my bag next to—and nearly as tech-sexy as—my iPad. I make my rounds and it inevitably makes its way to a microwave.

What a simple solution! Thanks to this innovation, my thermos days are definitely over. (Coffee brands, are you listening?)

This brings me to the point: In Campbell’s case, innovation is a tightrope walk. How do you stay fresh, relevant and competitive without compromising your identity?

What I mean, friends, is that soup ain’t as simple as it seems.

Campbell stands among the ultimate American heritage brands.

It has been around for more than a century. Look at the label. You’ll see a gold medallion for excellence from the 1900 Paris Exposition.

Consider the classic green bean casserole—an American holiday staple. Without Campbell’s cream of mushroom, where would we be?

That red-and-white can has become so much a part of our culture, our identity, that Warhol immortalized it.

And I need not remind you that more than a couple decades later, at about the same age I found love in that can, my nephew is sitting across from me laughing, playing and enjoying the very same product.

You don’t mess with that kind of success.

But as we all know,inertia often equals death; no matter how beloved our product, no matter how trusted our brand, we must keep a few steps ahead of the pace of change.

(Ask Smith Corona—their answer to word processing was an electric typewriter.)

Denise Morrison
 Denise Morrison gets it.

So as steward of a brand that means so much to so many, and which doesn’t ostensibly need to be changed, what does innovation look like from a strategic perspective?

In this exclusive interview with FEI’s Forward Focus, Morrison shares her innovation strategy, including:

• Revamp the innovation process to focus on disciplined creativity via cross-functional teams

• Challenge the status quo

Open the door and look outside

“All of these choices allow us to act like a nimble start-up with the advantages of big company resources,” said Morrison.

Editor’s note: Denise Morrison will be delivering a keynote titled “Permission to Think Outside the Can: The Leader as Curator of the Innovation Culture” at the 11th annual Front End of Innovation conference taking place May 6-8 in Boston.

For more information or to register for FEI 2013, please visit us at

Marc Dresner is IIR USA's senior editor and special communication projects lead. He is the former executive editor of Research Business Report, a confidential newsletter for market researchers. He may be reached at Follow him @mdrezz.

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