The Time it Takes for Innovation at Heinz Worries Me
Image by Martin F. Ramin for The Wall Street Journal
It was reported by the Wall Street Journal that the executives at Heinz spent 3 years developing a new larger ketchup packet that contains 3 times more ketchup than the original.
Some people rip off the corner of the packet with their teeth. Others, while driving, squirt the ketchup directly into their mouth, then add fries. Some forgo fries at the drive-through all together to keep from creating a mess in the car.
After observing these and other “compensating behaviors,” H. J. Heinz Co. says it spent three years developing a better ketchup packet.
As the name promises, “Dip and Squeeze” ketchup can be squeezed out through one end or the lid can be peeled back for dipping. The red, bottle-shaped packets hold three times the ketchup as traditional packets. The new containers are more expensive than the old sleeves, but Heinz hopes customers learn not to grab more than one or two.
To develop the new packet, Heinz staffers sat behind one-way, mirrored glass, watching consumers in 20 fake minivan interiors putting ketchup on fries, burgers, and chicken nuggets.
To try new prototypes himself, Mike Okoroafor, Heinz vice president of global packaging innovation and execution, bought a used minivan, taking it to local McDonald’s and Wendy’s drive-throughs to order fries and apply ketchup in the confined space.
After reading this article, 2 things came to mind.
The first thing was that: it’s about time! I recalled a distinct gnashing of teeth when my overenthusiastic ripping of a ketchup packet caused it to explode all over my t-shirt.
The second thing that came to mind, almost simultaneously with the first, was that this design thinking project took 3 years to complete? I had to reread that paragraph twice just to be sure that I got it right. While I don’t have the full details apart from what was reported in the article, and most of us probably don’t work at Heinz, but don’t you think 3 years seem excessive for a product of this nature?
I’m sure it can be argued that good design takes time to gestate, but a good design team with a strong critical insight should be able to do this, working full time, in less than 1/3 of that time. And that is even a conservative estimate.
However if we consider that this packet was “design by committee”, then things could start to get a little clearer. If this was the case, then I fully applaud the sheer willpower of the design team in seeing the project (and its countless of iterations) to its end.
The longest I’ve ever worked on a project was over a year, operating 6 days a week leading a team of 5 designing a range of 11 products. I was burnt out after that experience. So I can’t begin to imagine what working on a project for 3 years feels like. If design thinking has to even take this long to implement, then it is no wonder businesses are losing faith in the approach.
I would love to hear your thoughts? Also if there is someone who has been close to this project and can share further insights, please do!