Yesterday, I had lunch with the man, Bob, who was affectionately dubbed “The Father of Lunchables” by admiring colleagues at the Oscar Mayer Division of Kraft Foods. I worked with and for him for a few years. Most of you won’t know this but his innovation, leadership, development and refinement of Lunchables launched a whole new food category in grocery. I don’t have the exact data any more but the last time I knew, they owned approximately an 80% market share. Can you imagine what that has meant to the earnings and revenue growth at Oscar Mayer over the last several years? Hint: Lunchables is still growing and its development wasn’t accomplished by a run-of-the-mill approach to new products.
Most companies don’t have the stomach for the innovation approach it took to develop Lunchables. It’s much safer to extend the existing brands. And the early red ink can cause stress on businesses that have to deliver quarterly results to the Street. In fact, there were times early on where the team was challenged to “get in the black or don’t come back”. But Bob helped the company overcome the obstacles that beset every new product initiative. His skill and approach to innovation proved lucrative for the Oscar Mayer Division. A legend was born.
I gave him a copy of the book The Design of Business by Roger Martin. Not that he needs to read it. Bob is a natural design thinker. He could have easily written the book himself (instead, he’s writing a book on the Civil War). But it will give us a great topic for my next lunch with the Lunch(ables) legend.
(BTW, Bob and his partners at Growth Catalysts help companies with their innovation needs.)