Chasing The Sun: Innovation And Convenience In Consumer Products

“My geranium is dying, for all I can do,
Still leaning toward the last place the sun was.”
– Theodore Roethke, I’m Here,” The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, Anchor Books, 1975.

I came across these lines when re-reading a book of Roethke’s poems that a friend gave me a number of years ago. Aside from the sheer beauty of the image, it struck me as a rather apt analogy for the state in which many consumer products companies find themselves. The last place the sun shone is – in my mind – the last product that captivated consumer attention or the last market that enabled rapid expansion. The last place that promised growth.

You might think of it as the consumer products version of the innovator’s dilemma. Once a given product or brand – or, for that matter, business model – finds success, there is a powerful pull to continue investing resources in that direction. Even when it’s clear that the sunlight is progressing to a new position – a position likely occupied by a disruptive competitor.

Mark Osborn, SAP’s vice president of digital strategy for consumer products, points to mattress innovator Casper as a compelling example of where the sun is headed. “The most innovative companies are redefining convenience directly in the context of highly personalized consumer experiences,” he explains. “Before Casper, you had to visit a showroom, engage with a pushy salesperson, select a mattress from among innumerable options, and then wait weeks for delivery.” Not only that, but you were stuck with it once it arrived.

By contrast, Casper offers one mattress at one price – what the company terms “the best possible mattress at the best possible price for the greatest number of people.” Osborn marvels at a user experience that is entirely online, including ordering and delivery scheduling. “This is just one example of a company that’s introduced breakthrough innovation into the market while delivering both convenience and a personalized experience to consumers,” he asserts.

Lisa Goller, an industry influencer who has written extensively about retail and consumer products industry disruption, also points to convenience as an increasingly powerful point of differentiation. “Overall,” she states, “I’ve noticed impressive growth in grocers’ prepared foods and subscription meal kits, as consumers seek time savings, variety, and fewer trips to grocery stores.”

Goller also calls out emergent categories like portable foods such as Love Good Fats’ low-carb protein bars for keto diets and on-the-go nutrition and satiety; functional foods like Beviva’s Purpo instant cereals for consumers suffering from IBS; and “better-for-you” desserts like Halo Top ice cream and Chobani dessert yogurts. “These types of products reflect macro trends of consumers spending less time on cooking (especially time-starved young families),” she explains, “and a growing desire for a health and wellness lifestyle.”

Victor Martino, a food industry visionary who explores innovation trends in his many articles, likewise sees convenience as a critical concept – but one that keeps evolving. “Convenience is dynamic,” he posits. “What was convenient a few years ago is the norm today in the eyes of consumers.” Martino points out that increasing consumer expectations for convenience are forcing mainstay companies like Campbell’s Soup to rethink their strategies.

But Martino is quick to point out that a company like Campbell’s shouldn’t rush to embrace innovations like direct to consumer. “Marketplaces like Amazon and others are still more powerful than direct to consumer for CPG,” he clarifies, “and – in turn – brick and mortar stores trump online marketplaces. The key today is to leverage each channel to achieve individual and collective brand and sales benefits. We’re living in a phygital world and market.”

Whether you’re in the business of mattresses or mozzarella, it seems, the bound concepts of convenience and innovation pervade. It’s all about where the sun is headed.

It’s not about making big changes – it’s about how fast companies can make it happen. Read “Fast Vs. Big: Who Will Win In The Future Of Consumer Products?