Innovation’s the Word

Dan Malovany,

Maybe you’ve received the e-mail explaining the new words for 2007. “Cube farm” is an office filled with cubes. “Mouse potatoes” are the online generation’s equivalent of couch potatoes. And “assmosis” has something to do with kissing up to the boss.
One word that I have had trouble getting a good definition for is “innovation.” That’s mainly because the word is so overused these days that it has lost its meaning. For Todd Kluger, brand marketing director at Roman Meal Co., that’s not the case.
“I separate out invention and innovation, where invention is coming up with something completely new or starting from scratch,” he says. “Innovation involves improving on what’s out there. If you’re an innovative company, you’re trying to improve upon what’s already on the market.”
Last year, Roman Meal branched out of the bread aisle and entered the snack bar category.
“It’s a crowded category,” Kluger notes. “We were not going to be able to invent a new snack bar, but we could be innovative about creating one.”
Roman Meal then examined what other companies were offering and found that many of these products were high in calories, low in dietary fiber and contained high-fructose corn syrup and refined sugars. More often than not, they were simply glorified candy bars with vitamins added. Even so-called whole grain products were made with flour and a couple of fillers like rice or wheat crisps. Despite its perception, the overall bar category had become anything but healthy.
To improve on what’s already out there, Roman Meal developed all-natural whole grain and fruit bars with 5 gm. of fiber and fewer than 200 calories. The 2-oz. bars are made with ingredients such as raisins, walnuts and fruit juice that consumers can purchase from a grocery store. The products contain no-added vitamins or minerals because Roman Meal’s core audience — women over 50 — most likely is taking supplements already. Rather, ingredients such as whole grain rye and barley and whole fruits like raisins and dates come from nature at its best.
When it comes to flavor, Kluger notes that there is a “spectrum of innovation.” On one hand, you have more traditional mainstream flavors like oatmeal raisin and apple cinnamon in the bar category. On the other hand, you have flavors like pomegranate and acai, a South American berry with a high antioxidant level, on the super-innovative extreme. In launching its bars, Roman Meal introduced traditional varieties such as oatmeal raisin and more innovative but still mainstream ones such as cranberry walnut. This year, the company is rolling out four more varieties across the flavor spectrum.
“You have to walk on the edge for part of your product line,” Kluger says. “You may think that this flavor or idea may completely fail, but it may also be the one where lightening strikes.”
Innovation also involves “thought leadership.” For Roman Meal, that might involve developing new breads that are relevant to consumers or entering new product categories such as crackers, cereal or refrigerated biscuits as it strives to become a “global leader in whole grains.”
It also involves alternative media advertising, such as using the Internet to promote its breads. Go to Google, type in “barley bread” or “whole grain bread” and you’ll see what the company is doing.
Innovation isn’t invention. It isn’t exotic. It just involves doing things better. Look what Starbucks did to the once-boring coffee category. Guess where Kluger worked before he joined Roman Meal.
Here’s a hint: He lives in Seattle.