Using Personal Experiences in NPD

Managing Director of KICR, Susannah Croucher reminds us that as consumers ourselves, by keeping the environments of our work and personal lives separate, we miss out on potential new ideas or inspiration.

Now, more than ever, consumers are experimenting. With more time on their hands to try something out or just adding a twist to a favourite dish, consumers are in the kitchen like never before! Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the rise of cross-cultural foods and throwing the net wide for inspiration was apparent.

As professionals in the FMCG industry we need to be on top of these trends to stay ahead in the innovation game. Too often I feel we forget we are consumers too; we keep the environments of our work and personal lives separate, but in doing so do we miss out on potential new ideas or inspiration? You and the circle of people who surround you have a vast wealth of experience – now it’s time to learn how to utilise that in your NPD. Here’s how I’ve brought my personal experience into the work we do at KICR today.

It’s an experience that will remain with me, and inspire me, for the rest of my life.

A year ago, I was just settling into my decision to move from the UK to South Africa – I was going ahead, and my husband and dogs were due to follow a short while after. One year on however, things are looking completely different to the way I thought they would (not related to COVID-19!) and I am back in the UK, settling into another new and exciting opportunity as Managing Director of MMR’s sister company Cubo.
Whilst this was not what I expected to happen upon moving to South Africa, nothing can take away from the amazing experience of living and working in a country that was new and different to me in every way. It’s an experience that will remain with me, and inspire me, for the rest of my life. Of course, there were the amazing personal experiences – safaris, Table Mountain, wine tours – but it’s the little things which really surprised me and it is those that I will use day to day when working with KICR clients in innovation.
Single Person Living
At 36 when I left for South Africa I had never lived alone before, and this was the part I was most apprehensive about. It took some getting used to, but I certainly learnt that I can be happy in my own company, despite being someone who will always prefer having people around! I did however have to get creative with my cooking. I am used to cooking for two and batch preparing dinners, but with a small freezer and a desire to keep the variety in my diet that I love, I learnt to get creative with small twists in meals and find multiple ways to use the same set of ingredients.
For example, I made sure I kept a jar of pesto and one of harissa paste in my fridge – I found I could use these as bases for different sauces, or just spread on a chicken breast or fish fillet for a simple meal. I would also buy a mix of fresh vegetables and then vary the dishes – Thai curry, spicy prawn stir fry, frittata – using the same veggies as a base but getting a variety of tastes and textures in the different dishes. It was often trial and error, but several of the dishes have come back to the UK with me as firm favourites.
Waste was another big frustration of single person living – trying to use a litre of milk within a week in a single-person household used to drive me mad! However, the innovations in small pack formats available in South Africa was a real revelation and something I think manufactures elsewhere can learn from. Whilst the local need for this is driven by economic factors, the rise of single living elsewhere in the world provides an opportunity to leverage already existing solutions. Just a couple of simple examples: milk was readily available in ½ pint bottles, perfect for a week of essential morning tea, and butter in 100g packs – just enough to make a cheese sauce and pastry for a quiche.
Produce variety
One of the things that really stood out to me was the emphasis put not only on seasonality of produce, but also on getting a variety of it – by this I mean sub-variety of the produce being a real point of difference, for example queen pineapple, purple sweet potato or yellow granadilla. Almost all of these were fruits and vegetables known to me, but the ability to access local varieties with unique tastes so different to the ones I had commonly experienced was a real surprise. I have only been back in the UK for a month, but I already miss these products that were weekly buys for me. I am looking forward to using this newfound knowledge in product innovations to come; the sweetness of a queen pineapple is just unrivaled for me and something I can’t wait to see put under the spotlight in future products!
Heritage Pulses
I know my green lentils from orange, and my quinoa from my couscous, but the shear variety of heritage pulses and their uses in South Africa was incredible. From finger millet fried cakes to cow peas and mung beans in stews, the availability of these products was widespread, and their use ingrained (no pun intended) into South African cooking. With their ability to add taste, texture and protein to a meal these are a great addition to my cooking repertoire (and I was very excited to find mung beans in the world food aisle of Sainsburys!). Using these as a carrier to flavour was an essential lesson I learnt from consumers – a base of spices and tomatoes being common. I look forward to experimenting with them in my own cooking, plus seeing them make their way into future innovations once we can get back in the Cubo development kitchen. My only regret is I didn’t get to try Bambara ground nuts… next time!
Every single one of our personal experiences, new and old, give us a unique perspective. Using this collective knowledge in ideation and innovation, grounded with consumer insight and culinary expertise, is the new experience I am most looking forward to as I embark on my Cubo journey with all of you.
Written by Susannah Croucher, Joint Managing Director at KICR