FEATURE1 May 2010

Using your loaf

Phil Burgess of FreshMinds on how Warburtons got its staff to contribute to new product development and reinvigorate its innovation process.


Since it was founded in 1876 Warburtons has earned its place on supermarket shelves, in local shops and on the breakfast tables of millions of families in the UK. Today the company produces two million bakery products every day and employs 5,000 staff in 14 bakeries. But while Warburtons hasn’t wavered from its founders’ principles of freshness and quality, the bread category has been transformed.

Warburtons wanted to try using ideation with their internal team, followed by early-stage concept exploration with consumers to see what could be added to their existing innovation process for new product development. By doing so, they hoped to build enthusiasm in the company for integrating research much more closely into the innovation process. Warburtons was looking for an agency that could work collaboratively with them to facilitate discussions, engage their internal team and tap into their existing knowledge and enthusiasm to generate new ideas.

It was essential that the research went beyond the traditional workshop stage to qualify and develop the ideas in some detail. It was no use leaving the firm with a stack of ideas on Post-it notes but no clear next steps to take. The challenge was to help stimulate ideas for new products, screen them and recommend the strongest.

The brief
The first objective was to come up with at least 30 ideas that Warburtons could feed into their innovation funnel. The second objective was to engage internal stakeholders and demonstrate the value that ideation research could bring to the company’s ongoing product development strategy. By making the most of Warburtons’ expertise, we aimed to help kick start ideas for new products.

“We pushed them a long way to make sure that we nailed down their objectives and understood what resources we had to work with”

The approach
We started by questioning Warburtons very closely about exactly what they wanted to achieve. In their words, we pushed them a long way to make sure that we nailed down their objectives and understood what resources we had to work with. Our approach was to take their existing research, which included their consumer segmentation and a recent research project into drivers of purchase and consumption, and use these as reference points for innovation. We were able to set a framework for the innovation process to ensure that the outcome of the research would be clear ideas that fitted Warburtons’ existing brand and met the needs of its consumers.

We agreed upon a two-phase approach. The first focused on working with Warburtons’ internal team to generate new product ideas; the second used consumer focus groups to test their appeal.

The first phase involved a day-long workshop with members of the Warburtons team. Warburtons was keen to draw on ideas and expertise from across the business, so FreshMinds worked with the innovation team to identify people to take part, reflecting the diversity of the company and harnessing employees’ creativity. The workshop kicked off with each participant showing the others an innovation that they couldn’t live without. Examples ranged from iPods to fake tan. This helped to illustrate the idea that innovations can fall into two categories: entirely new product ideas and small changes that nevertheless have a big impact on consumers. Both have the potential to bring in new revenue streams.

During the day we used a wide variety of exercises and projection techniques to stimulate new innovations. We ran a ‘speed dating’ exercise whereby participants were put into pairs and asked to assume the character of one of Warburtons’ eight consumer segments. Participants were then asked to focus on one of the key bakery consumption occasions (breakfast, lunch) and to think about what bakery products would appeal to them. Partners were given two minutes to find out about their character, their lifestyle, preferences and eating habits. After two minutes both participants would then write down their ideas for what innovations would best meet the needs of the segment.

To encourage participants to think about incremental product innovations, we used a ‘mystery bag’ exercise, in which participants took an item from a bag of 15 grocery products and thought about how they could take some of the qualities from the random object and apply them to an existing Warburtons product. This exercise led to some suggestions of new flavours, textures and packaging for products. While this exercise led, of course, to some rather off-the-wall ideas it got the team to think about how relatively simple tweaks (such as adding new ingredients, incorporating serving suggestions or changing the pack size) could be used to make an existing product appeal to a different segment.

Participants recorded all the ideas on data capture sheets, with space to include both words and pictures. We encouraged participants to flesh out their ideas, say who each innovation would appeal to and outline its benefits to consumers. During the day all the capture sheets were displayed on a huge ‘ideas wall’ and participants were invited to add comments to one another’s ideas.

At the end of the day, the workshop had generated a staggering 170 ideas. The next task was to screen them. In smaller groups the participants rated each idea for consumer appeal, how excited they were about it and how feasible it was. Following the workshop FreshMinds wrote up and rationalised all 170 ideas. We created a matrix that ranked the ideas using the criteria from the screening exercise and identified the best concepts to test with consumers.

The second phase of the research involved conducting focus groups to test nine of the concepts with each of Warburtons’ target consumer segments. We worked with one of Warburtons’ design agencies to create visuals for the new concepts and used these as the basis for the consumer research phase. Five focus groups were run sequentially to accelerate the innovation process and enable us to tweak the concepts in line with consumer feedback.

“The insight, planning and innovation teams now work together more closely and research is much more tightly integrated with the new product development process”

The findings
Armed with fresh consumer insight and a number of solid ideas of bakery category innovation, FreshMinds set about distilling all the ideas and concept feedback into a set of recommendations. We identified which concepts were best received and how well these fitted into the existing brand portfolio before making recommendations about ‘quick wins’ and long-term success. As a result of the research three concepts have been selected to go through to the next stage. We also provided Warburtons with all the materials from the workshop together with the ideas matrix, so the company can repeat the exercise with other staff if required.

The outcome
A few months on, one of the concepts that we explored with consumers is already being progressed for development.

Amy Sharrock, Warburtons’ consumer and shopper insights manager, said: “By linking ideation and early concept research, this project has successfully engaged the internal team at Warburtons with conducting concept exploration very early in the innovation process. Ideas that we were each personally passionate about were interrogated by bakery consumers before making decisions about whether to develop them further. Having the internal team watching consumers getting excited – or not – about the concepts was really impactful and key in directing our product pipeline.”

Ideation as a means for stimulating new product development is now well-received across the business. Following the success of the original workshop the ideation session is now being run at a site level in order to engage employees throughout the business in new product development. Warburtons plans to continue using the technique to generate new ideas.

The project has also had an impact on the role of research in the innovation process. The insight, planning and innovation teams now work together more closely and research is much more tightly integrated with the new product development process. The insights and planning team now run quarterly workshops to feed the innovation team with category knowledge and build upon their market and consumer understanding in advance of future ideation sessions.