How to Leverage Consumer Insights for Innovation

SUMMARY WITH ANDY RENAUD

Andy Renaud from Ferrara Candy is on AAI today and a common theme that comes up is what do we do with consumer insights? How do we use them to fill our innovation pipeline? How can we use them to engage our customer on social media and beyond? Andy talks to Josh about how they’re doing this in the candy space, from Crunchy Crawlers to a specific Wonder Woman candy – Ferrara is engaging customers in so many different ways.

The discussion loops around to COVID-19 and how Ferrara has remained agile through it all. From setting up employees to do R&D at home to understanding what the best tech tools are to use for collaboration. As consumer behavior changes, how does Ferrara change with it and keep innovating despite limitations?

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Full Transcript with Andy Renaud

Erin Srebinski: [00:13] Hi, and welcome to Ask an Innovator. This morning we have Andy Renaud from Ferrara Candy Company talking with us about innovations in the confection space. He talks about the innovation practice at Ferrara and how knowing your key strengths is essential for growth and launching new products. The podcast was recorded during COVID-19, so Andy and Josh also cover how Ferrara has remained agile and is continuing to deliver sweet delights to customers. For more, keep on listening and for the full transcript check us out at cityinnovationlabs.com/ask-an-innovator

Josh Barker: [00:42] Andy, I really appreciate you coming on. I’d love for you to give just a little intro to yourself.

Andy Renaud: [00:47] Yeah, of course. So I’m Andy Renaud. I’ve been in the confections category for my entire career. So I have an undergrad from UW Madison. In food science and so that’s just a study of all of the know-how in engineering, chemistry, even regulations, the marketing behind food, and how things are made for our food industry. So I got that back in 2009, I graduated and I had an internship in Chicago, which actually led to a full-time position at my prior company. Work they’re doing a lot of in the lab at the factory scale-up of product development, both on gum and candy and confectionery sugar, confections.

As of last year, January of ’19, I moved over to my current employer for our candy company in Chicago. And so since then, I’ve been doing a lot. My title is senior manager of innovation, growth management. Really, what that entails is looking at how Ferrara is doing innovation and what roles do we need in place? What process do we need to implement and deploy? What capabilities do we need to develop? But also from a strategic standpoint? What should we be having in our innovation pipeline to deliver growth not only for the company but also for the category? But also, what insights from consumers are we leveraging to develop that pipeline.

It’s been a really interesting opportunity over the last year and a half just because I’ve been able to really leverage my knowledge and experience doing the hands-on product development and translating that with strategic partnerships within different functions to deliver growth and so it’s been exciting. Ferrara as you know, we might get into later, is really in a time of rapid growth and change and really exciting to see our innovations help deliver that and actually get a lot of great feedback from the consumers themselves. So yeah, that’s kind of my background. I’ve been in Chicago since I graduated in ’09 and really love it. I think it’s a hub of CPG and just a lot of history with food manufacturers. And so just so a lot of great opportunities.

Josh Barker: [03:08] Awesome, Ferrara is a candy company, right? What does your day to day look like? You know, you mentioned gathering insights and bringing that to talk about how you might apply those to get more growth. What does that look like for you?

Andy Renaud: [03:25] Yeah, I mean, candy is a fun category. But realistically, I’m in a lot of meetings, a lot of conversations all day. But it’s working with our technical teams to understand how we’re going to be developing ideas, but then also working with marketing and our sales teams to pull together the right stories and make sure that our retailers and our distribution partners are really going to be excited and help drive the innovation.

So it’s a lot of partnership, a lot of defining, what do we need to do to deliver? It’s kind of interesting too. A lot of our innovations are launched at a similar time each year, which I don’t think a consumer, day to day, might not recognize. End of the year is when we launch all of our new items. And then we’re trying to do it on an annual basis. So depending on the time of the year, different shift.

Right now, we’re in a lot of ideation, exercises, and activities to build out ideas for future innovation. And so we’re looking at what do we want to be? What are insights we can leverage today to really help create novel and unique ideas for the consumer in 2023, and 2024? So it’s been, you know, a lot of further out looking, creative mindset implementation right now.

So today we’re actually, you know, in a lot of discussions about who needs to be helping us create ideas, how are we creating ideas? And then also, how are we going to refine those ideas over time, so a lot of planning for project timelines. So, yeah, it kind of shifts a lot. But right now we’re building out future ideas first, then technical teams go and develop.

Josh Barker: [05:10] Sure. You know, would you say you’re mostly inward-facing, mostly outward-facing? Or is it a kind of a marriage of both of those? Meaning like employee-focused, or customer-focused?

Andy Renaud: [05:23] Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely, I would say a combination. I think, starting wise at the start of where we want to start generating ideas, it’s definitely outward-looking. Where we’re engaging with our retailers, we actually have typically once to twice a year we’ll have innovation-focused conversations and summits with major retailers to discuss what does the future look like and how do we build that together? How can we provide new exciting products for you and for their customers?

But then also, how do we leverage what Ferrara is really good at. So looking inward? What capabilities and knowledge do we have in-house to really develop things synergistically that is beneficial for our retailers and for the customers. I think a lot of folks on this podcast have mentioned to if you don’t understand the consumer and the customer looking outward, your innovations aren’t really going to deliver.

Josh Barker: [06:27] Right. Well, and what got you interested in the innovation space? What do you like most about it?

Andy Renaud: [06:33] Yeah, I mean, to put it simply, it’s fun. Who doesn’t love coming up with a new idea? I think all of us come up with ideas every day. Yeah, it can be very simple. It can be grand, and it’s a lot of those ideas you never think would happen. For example, Uber, it’s something that, who would have thought we would get into strangers’ cars and let them drive us places and now it is just ubiquitous for traveling.

And so it’s all about the excitement of coming up with new ideas, but really inspire me. I had a really great opportunity in my undergrad to do an internship with a Candy Company, and who doesn’t love candy too? So it’s like, ultimately, you know, what gets me out of the bed each day is just, you know, working with great people, but ultimately, we’re working on a fun and loved to category. And so ultimately, to me, it just gives me something fun to do with my day.

Josh Barker: [07:31] You know, I was reading – are you familiar with 23 and Me, the genetic testing company? They actually said that women are, they genetically proved this, are 1.2 times more likely to like candy. So I remember that, you know, going into this, which I thought is so I’m assuming that’s is that some of your I mean, obviously, broadly, everyone loves candy, but right, but is there a specific target that most you know if you’re guiding a lot of your decisions of the target market?

Andy Renaud: [07:57] Good question, I think I hate to say it depends but really, Ferr has a large portfolio of brands. And so each of those brands really speaks to different audiences. And so depending really on I would say who the consumer is you can innovate in different ways. So yeah, you know, our Trolli brand really speaks to the weird the awesome nature of fun and candy and just being able to live in a different world for a moment. We actually have a lot of gamers love truly, that does provide just this weird kind of brand and perspective on the world.

Then we also speak to with sweet tarts are “Be Both” campaign and just marketing about you can have sweet and tart so combination and you’re allowed to do both within your worlds you know, and as you identify, could be a football player, but also be a chemist for your day job. So candy, really, I mean, as much as maybe I’m so embedded in a category, but you really can identify with it in a different way. So depending back to your question, who we’re innovating for, that’s kind of the mindset and the frame that we’ll use to ground ourselves when we think of new ideas.

Josh Barker: [09:14] Yeah, that makes sense. There’s kind of a it’s diverse, but it sounds like there is somewhat of a home base for maybe different brands and different types of candy. What would you say your greatest challenges are in the space to innovation?

Andy Renaud: [09:29] Good question. I mean, a few come to my mind, I think. The first one just being such a saturated category. If you don’t go down the category aisle, just think of the number of packages that are in that aisle, and how many options you have. So just the plethora of variety that the consumers seek. So it’s challenging in a sense of continuously wanting to create new news, but also, depending on your time of day, consumers might not be 100% loyal to you at all times. And so just kind of capturing that, but then also delivering the same quality product each time is a really big challenge.

The other challenge, I would say too, is just with innovation in general, I would say even outside the category is thinking long-term and being able to keep momentum internally and put that lens of like I said, we’re thinking 2023 and beyond. We also have to continue our base business of today. And so it’s just a challenge, I would say, to keep excitement and momentum. And organizationally, we can create org structures that help us think that way.

But of course, as I think any company has, you know, fires that need to be put out. So it can be a challenge of thinking, How do I keep my day today, but also think about three years out is a big challenge too. Luckily, like I said, going back to innovation just being fun, you can kind of help sell in really having to be good at selling ideas has been a good challenge, I would say just working in the innovation space.

Josh Barker: [11:11] What do you see in the candy industry is what do you see as trends? You know because you can you just list you said Uber right you can kind of see there are trends to more of this as a service type concept right for on-demand type transportation, but what do you see is and then we look into autonomous vehicles but what do you see is kind of trending for candy?

Andy Renaud: [11:35] Yeah, there’s a few I think one that maybe isn’t so new but people look to candy really as just an escape to mindlessly daybreak and have a snack or it could be we also have a portfolio of cookie brands in our business. And you know, it could be an afternoon snack or it could be a way to connect with your children by offering them something maybe a treat that you had in your childhood.

And so it’s an exciting moment for that child, but then also a nostalgic feeling. So I would say just the trend of emotional meaning that we kind of call sweets snacking as our category can offer. I think another really interesting trend that I’ve, you know, we’ve started to think about what we how we can capitalize on or just start innovating on is the way people identify with products and not even just sweet snacking or candy.

But for example, Black Forest, our organic and better ingredient line of gummies really provides you know, a way to identify and feel good about a product that you’re consuming. Not only is it using better ingredients but also this year we’ve been donating to a plant a tree foundation to plant trees and so with that purchase you’re able to kind of identify as a, you know, healthy for you but also healthy for the world.

And really, we’ve had a lot of celebrities who organically will resonate with that and start posting on it. So it’s just been a really exciting way to think about how do we innovate not only with maybe flavors or the product itself, but innovate with a social connection and being able to really engage consumers beyond that pack of gummies that they ate.

So those are a few that come to my mind within just the sweet snacking or candy, category, and trends. And it’s really interesting to see how social media has played into just consumer feedback loops as well. And that’s something as far as building out our culture of innovation. How can we utilize that to inspire innovation is something I’ve been questioning too and thinking about? Because it is such a rapid feedback loop and very quick, how do you capture and react to it is something that I think is a behavior companies really need to be reliant on.

Josh Barker: [14:04] Very interesting. I mean, have you applied anything so far? Are you just in the preliminary stages of kind of that? Taking what’s on social and getting feedback, the closing the feedback loop, per se, is that still kind of a new thing for you guys? Or is there are some learnings you guys have learned from that to say, Hey, this is changing the way we do things. And here’s how.

Andy Renaud: [14:23] Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s definitely new. I wouldn’t say there’s, I’m sure a lot of companies do it differently. We’ve been utilizing that a lot to promote our new innovations. But also just capitalize on way s to engage, we know movie campaigns will be opportunities to engage socially with consumers. We launched a Sweetarts Golden Rope for the Wonder Woman movie release. Being able to allow consumers to utilize a golden rope as they’re enjoying a movie and identify again with that.

That’s just kind of allowed us to predict ahead of knowing how consumers will engage online and in social. Wanting to engage with a movie that just synergistically has created opportunities for us. Such as our Sweetarts Golden Rope. And so we’re obviously can’t divulge too much, but utilizing that to think about future ways we can engage.

I think other companies do it, such as Lays with feedback on how do consumers vote for new flavors. What’s been really interesting to me in the CPG category is companies are really good at utilizing those insights and predictive behavior to engage socially about vote or flavor campaign. Ultimately, you can use research and insights to predict ahead of time, for example.

Like I said, each company will do it differently. But it’s just been interesting learning for me to think about. There’s a lot of research and work for two to three years leading up to a campaign like that. So it’s kind of almost using that social portal to create news and awareness for products. That’s been really interesting and something that Ferrara is doing a lot of. It’s just been really exciting to work on those sorts of innovations and engage in different ways with consumers.

Josh Barker: [16:27] Sure. You know, going back to something you said a little earlier. You said that consumers use this candy as essentially, at times an escape? Right? So then a question I have for you is, shifting topics for a minute. How is that really affected you guys during COVID-19? Is there a correlation where it’s like, as their a mindset or process shifts or due to the current climate, what has changed for you guys?

Andy Renaud: [16:53] Yeah, good question. I mean, it’s definitely been an interesting time. I think, luckily for our own were one of our values is agility and just being able to adapt quickly. And I would say our teams have really showcased that. So two things. One is some of our technical developers, short of not being able to go into labs, have utilized their own home kitchens to prototype and test out different recipes. I mean, candy and cookies can be made at home. And so, just even procuring equipment to test out prototypes at home has been one way that we’ve adapted quickly.

The other really is a capability we’ve been building out and investing in is our industrial design capabilities. And so ideation exercises, how do we put ideas and thoughts to paper and prototype? So those sort of exercises have gone virtual. Instead of being in a day-long ideation activity, teams or industrial design leads have been breaking those sessions into multi-day exercises. Using platforms such as Miro to really help us collaborate together in unique ways.

And so it’s just been an adaption of taking day to day behaviors and really doing it remotely. AIt’s still leveraging technology to ensure that we can collaborate together and still interface as best we can. So it’s been an interesting way to see those. But I would say we’ve had to definitely prioritize. We’ve also had to think about creative ways that we can continue our process. Those two come to my mind. Equipping ourselves to do it individually at home, and also just how do we leverage technology?

Josh Barker: [18:40] Sure. Sounds like you’ve guys have adapted quite quickly. That’s good. Now, what about consumer habits? Have you guys seen any of those change during this time of COVID-19,

Andy Renaud: [18:49] We’ve definitely seen them change, I would say, shopping behavior as consumers have a pantry stocked. And so I would say it’s probably less impactful necessarily on Are innovations. We’re still figuring out the trends to really see an over the last three months. Yes. And so it’s kind of parceling out what is gonna have longevity. Yeah. But didn’t really it’s kind of more about how people are consuming or shopping and what maybe larger bulk packaging. I personally have been going to Costco a lot more than I did in the past. And so we’ve definitely witnessed it. I would say just time to innovation, it’s still over. We need to figure out

Josh Barker: [19:31] Sure how long I mean, you’ve been in the CPG space for a while. More broadly, what are the greatest things you’ve learned in the CPG space?

Andy Renaud: [19:40] I think within CPG, one of the biggest things I’ve learned are just witnesses. Some of the simplest things can have, you know, biggest impacts. So I kind of just as I think about innovation, keeping it simple. You know, for example, the car cup for gum was a huge packaging innovation. It was just a simple observation of people are spending a lot of time in cars. How we place products there as a category was one big innovation. Also, just going back to the excitement for candy. Multi-texture is a simple way to deliver excitement and new mindless ways for consumers to engage.

We’ve leveraged that to launch our Trolli Crunchy Crawlers last year. It’s a simple notion of, okay, it’s often hard as multi-texture, but it has been performing really well with consumers. But also it was an award winner at the Sweets and Snacks Expo. It’s the largest showcase of new consumer trends and products in the category for sweets and snacks. And one most innovative new products last year, awesome. So it’s just those simple kind of instant. Then getting creative, is what I think CPG has taught me is ways to really think about it. But also has been helpful just to not put so much pressure on having to find the best new thing. That does take time.

Josh Barker: [21:14] Yep. And it sounds like to, to that point, I think a lot of people think things like, hey, what is it for our category? There’s often the analogy of what is the iPhone, right? And versus saying, hey, it doesn’t have to be this massive thing to win all these awards or to be innovative. It’s switching the packaging, like you said, observing your environment of people using the product and getting something they want. You know, they don’t know. They didn’t know they want it. Yeah,

Andy Renaud: [21:44] Exactly. Exactly. And don’t get me wrong. I definitely want to find that next school bus. Yes. But it’s not every day. Yes.

Josh Barker: [21:51] Yep. small incremental wins and finding out what the consumer wants. What have you learned about or found out about innovation that listeners can take back and apply to their businesses? As people are listening to this podcast?

Andy Renaud: [22:04] Yeah, I think for me, I would say definitely just knowing your basics and what you know you’re capably strong of. And so for example, Ferrara has a lot of capabilities with coating and panning of candy. If you think about the crunchy gummies, the Trolli crunchy crawlers utilize our strength in panning and being able to put a candy shell on something. Believe it or not a worm-shaped gummy is not the easiest to coat.

So I would say knowing your basics in your industry and what your company is itself really strong at doing. For us, as historically started out as a painting company in 1908. Through time we’ve developed that and now we’re continuously thinking about how do we utilize that strength to keep innovating and providing new news? That’s some advice that I keep in the back of my mind. Know your basics and utilize that in the best way and continue to own it and develop.

Josh Barker: [23:13] So it sounds like somewhat to staying true to who you are, you know.

Andy Renaud: [23:17] Yeah, exactly.

Josh Barker: [23:18] That’s good. Anything else that you would cover you’d like to kind of cover ground on that hasn’t been talked about? Or think you think it’d be a good question or topic for us to hit on?

Andy Renaud: [23:29] I think, beyond kind of what I’ve already said, I would just say, innovation just isn’t really a “me and myself” process. You really need to engage internally and externally. Getting feedback as much as you can on things, you’re not going to get it perfect day one. Nor is it, Andy, you’re going to walk in the door and have the best next idea and do it all by myself. It doesn’t work that way. So I would say just continuously not being afraid to come up with crazy ideas or come up with prototypes. They might not be what goes out of the door ultimately. But leveraging partnerships and collaborating is going to be really critical.

Josh Barker: [24:15] Yeah, I think there are many times there’s a fallacy of when we when we speak of innovation. And you, you, you and I, working in the innovation space saying, Oh, my job is innovation. It doesn’t mean hey, I’m, I’m the next Steve Jobs in our organization. That’s not actually it’s almost the opposite, right? It means that we’re not the sole flag bearers of innovation. We’re cultivating that in the organizations. We’re in right where we want you to thrive. We have others come around us and, like you said, partner with inside the company outside the company. Really, the sum is greater than the one right so bring them all together.

Andy Renaud: [24:56] Exactly. And I think even going back to earlier. What I’ve learned in CPG, in my career is, it’s really outstanding, how much resources go behind things. So if you think about a pack of gummies on the shelf. There are dozens, if not hundreds of people employed and working on it. And then also, a lot of innovations can take quite some time. So I’ve, you know, I’ve witnessed launches of products that have taken five to 10 years. The amount of collaboration and resources and energy that go behind new innovations is not as simple as consumers think when they go down the candy aisle.

Josh Barker: [25:39] Yeah, that’s it’s amazing to see, as consumers we just look at a package or look at something on the shelf and we’re like, you just see it for what it is, right? This is a pack of gummies. Versus you have a unique insight to look at that and go, there are so many people and so much innovation involved in this small thing. Well, Andy, I really appreciate your time, it’s been a fun conversation. And you know, selfishly I did interview you so I could get a sample of candy. No, I’m just kidding. But

Andy Renaud: [26:11] Well let me know Josh. Oh, I can coordinate it.

Josh Barker: [26:15] I’m kidding. But no, I really appreciate your time. And it’s been great.

Andy Renaud: [26:18] Of course. Great. Thanks for the opportunity. Great chatting.

Josh Barker: [26:21] Yeah. Likewise

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