Imagine acquiring an iconic, 92-year-old brand but none of the R&D personnel or assets that supported it … and within nine months launching 15 truly novel new products, many in the hot, new category of riced vegetables.
That's what B&G Foods, a safe harbor for many old brands, accomplished with Green Giant. Canned vegetables have long been passé, and most recent "innovations" in the category were bags for steaming the same old veggies in the microwave. But when B&G Foods acquired the Green Giant brand from General Mills in November 2015, the new owner immediately set out to reinvigorate the brand with an aggressive approach to innovation.
B&G simultaneously integrated the new brand into its organization and created an R&D team to focus attention on what it considered a neglected property. "We started from scratch, deciding what and who we needed, what to do and how to do it," says Rick Drummond, vice president of R&D and innovation. "Our R&D team immediately recognized a major opportunity to introduce new products in the frozen category."
They had to strike while the iron was hot. The opportunity they saw was in using healthier vegetables as a substitute for potatoes and rice. Already, some consumers were "ricing" vegetables at home, grating cauliflower florets and other vegetables or processing them in a food processor to make a "rice" that was healthier and lower in calories, yet had many of the same applications.
"Cauliflower rice has been making its way around the food blogging circuit for a long time now and for good reason," wrote one such food blogger. "It’s zero Weight Watchers Points Plus, low-carb, slow-carb, South Beach Diet friendly, paleo, primal and just a good way to get more vegetables into your diet."
So the B&G Green Giant team came up with Green Giant Riced Veggies, Green Giant Veggie Tots and Green Giant Mashed Cauliflower.
"Perhaps the most important part of this is how fast the R&D team was able to develop these products," Drummond says. "Just nine months after acquiring the brand, and in only about six months of real R&D work, B&G Foods launched the new Green Giant product lines across the nation, and the new and innovative products are in high consumer demand."
B&G maintains a central R&D organization at its Parsippany, N.J. headquarters, although there are satellite R&D centers in nearby Roseland, N.J., and one in Ankeny, Iowa, that last one acquired last fall along with the spice business of ACH Foods. Monica Turel is manager of R&D for Green Giant, and Katy David and Payal Patel are food scientists also dedicated to the Green Giant business.
But B&G can allocate other R&D people and resources to a project or brand as needed. The initial Green Giant team also drew in William Wright, executive vice president of quality assurance and research & development; Brian Stepowany, manager of packaging R&D; and Chef Henry Piotrowski, manager of culinary R&D; as well as Drummond. All of them are corporate R&D people, not dedicated to Green Giant.
And there's an even bigger product development team at B&G, one that's very cross-functional, pulling in representatives of top management – sometimes even the CEO -- marketing, regulatory, quality, operations, logistics, procurement, finance and legal, and of course R&D. It meets regularly, at least monthly, to discuss projects. But in 2016, the expanded and cross-functional Green Giant team met daily because of the commitment to bring new Green Giant projects to market in record time.
"Cross-functional communication and alignment is a key to our success – that's our corporate philosophy," says Drummond.
B&G's business model is to grow by acquisition, and there have been many, especially older brands. So integrating a newly acquired brand and finding a way to re-energize it are paramount. B&G counts among its brands Ac'cent, Cream of Wheat, Joan of Arc, Molly McButter, Mrs. Dash, Ortega, Polaner and Underwood. More recent acquisitions have been Pirate's Booty salty snacks in 2013, ACH's spice business in November 2016 and Victoria Fine Foods, a maker of pasta sauces, last December.
While B&G's acquisitions have been numerous, Green Giant was the largest. B&G paid $765 million for the business.
In all, 15 new Green Giant products were launched in that first year. As mentioned earlier, there were three potato/rice substitute products:
- Riced vegetables in cauliflower, cauliflower & broccoli, cauliflower & sweet potato and cauliflower medley (adding peas, carrots and green and yellow onions)
- Veggie Tots (like potato tots) in cauliflower, broccoli and broccoli & cheese.
- Mashed Cauliflower in original (olive oil & sea salt), garlic & herb and cheddar & bacon.
Also launched was a Roasted Vegetable line with five SKUs: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and corn.
The products have done very well, says Drummond, hitting the market as interest in riced vegetables and all things plant-based was peaking. "It's really great to own the Green Giant brand; it's exciting to be turning it around," he says. "There's a lot of potential there."
Drummond wouldn't divulge any more products in the pipelines of Green Giant or B&G. "We just plan to continue on fast-forward—quick to market and always consumer-based."