How Ocean Spray is Rethinking Product Innovation

Oct. 16, 2020
Ocean Spray’s Chief Growth Officer, Rizal Hamdallah, is on the podcast talking about how this 90-year old cooperative is changing the way we think about health and wellness.

Welcome to the Food For Thought Podcast, a podcast where we take you beyond the headlines of the food and beverage manufacturing industry. My name is Erin Hallstrom and I’m the host of the Food For Thought Podcast.

When you think about innovation and new product development, does Ocean Spray come to mind? You might be thinking “how can anyone innovate a cranberry?” In this episode of Food For Thought, I’m talking to Rizal Hamdallah, Chief Growth Officer for Ocean Spray Cranberries, about how this 90-year old cooperative is changing the way we think about health and wellness.

Enjoy the episode


Erin: welcome to the Food For Thought podcast. How are you doing today?

Rizal: I'm good. And hi again, Erin. Thank you so much for having me with your podcast. And I'm so excited to be here. This is a great day today, so, you know, no complaints.

Erin: Yes, yes, it is great. It's beautiful outside. It's a great day to talk, even though we're inside and in two separate, completely different places.

Rizal: I agree with you.

Erin: Podcasting in the time of corona.

Rizal: Yes. You know, like, we'll make it happen, right?

Erin: Yeah, that's right. That's right. I love all the different people that we get to talk to. Not that we wouldn't have been able to talk to them before, but, you know, COVID kind of opened up the world of being able to talk to a lot of different and great, awesome folks that are doing some wonderful things, especially like what you're doing with Ocean Spray. So, on that note, can you tell me, how long have you been with Ocean Spray?

Rizal: So I've been with Ocean Spray around one and a half years. So less than two years. But sometimes it depends on the day. It feels like I've been here for five years. In a good spirit. So yeah, it's exciting time. You know, it's a great challenge. It's a great opportunity, and, man, love what I do, what we do here in the company. So yeah.

Erin: That's great. You've been there for almost, not quite two years, but let's talk Ocean Spray history because I know the company started out as a cranberry growing cooperative 90 years ago, and it stayed that way ever since. Can you provide some of the background on the cranberry co-op business and explain how it's helped Ocean Spray to become the brand we know today?

Rizal: Yeah. So maybe too before I answer that question, just to build, like when they...when we talk, like myself with the company two years ago, and really asking the question, "How can we rethink about innovation with Ocean Spray?" So I joined with the organization with focusing on innovation, product development, and really thinking about what the future looks like. How can we create like a differentiated portfolio beyond what we have been doing in the past 90 years? So that's connecting to your question, the history of Ocean Spray in the past 90 years is really driving with our one single amazing food, the cranberries, right?

So Ocean Spray founded in 1930s with three independent and cranberry farmers that strategically united forces to better grow the cranberry business. And the cool story is, one of which was a woman, which is awesome. So then, you know, they continuously working together and now it's like around 700 farmers within the co-op and then across North and South America. We're staying true to our roots. Our Ocean Spray farms remain family-owned and with the average farm size is only around eight acres.

And I think the way we're looking at our company is our farms are the fabric of who we are. And that's how we see it, how I see how we can build the company for the next legacy of 90 years. We are 90 years young, but we believe that we can continuously build a product that will create more relevance to what consumer is looking for today. So we're so excited, and I think with amazing history, amazing background of the company, where we stand as a co-op and what is the value of the organization and how we see innovation in driving the future, we're so confident that we can create something that's meaningful for you and for the consumer out there. Yeah. And we're excited to see a lot of great things coming out to the market.

Erin: So 90 years, I like that, 90 years young if I'm gonna use that. I mean, 90 years young is impressive, especially for a product centered around a single fruit. How has Ocean Spray continued to innovate with its product development?

Rizal: Yeah. So that's true, like, 90 years. I think the way I always, you know, respond to this question, even internally, our company came or started with a single fruit, cranberry. There was no juice back then, you know, few years, there is no dried cranberries within the early...you know, when we started this company 90 years ago. But innovation is at the core of the company and the business. That's why we innovated. That's why cranberry juice was born. We continuously innovated, why the dried fruit was born. Now we're thinking about what else can we create it in driving that future, in driving this change so hopefully, we can get another 90 years legacy.

And again, I think the way we approach innovation, the way we approach new product development, we looking at us as like entrepreneurs, because we believe that that's...the company who started this organization 90 years ago, that's how they did it. You know, when you talk about farmers, there is like an action of "just go do it," right? They debate and then you just go do it. There's not a lot of like work to be done before you actually...actually, just go do it. And that's what entrepreneurs are doing. So that's why we wanna make sure we continuously live in our comfort zone, creating new and exciting products that resonate with more diversified audience.

So within our innovation team, we created multiple ways, different ways of going after what next looks like. So we have the first group, which we call it the Lighthouse Incubator, which is, normally, a lot of incubators not within the organization. We build it inside of the company. With this approach as an incubator, we cultivate a new entrepreneurial culture from the inside out, but also helping us to think about from the business strategy point of view, we're just not about buying strategy, like M&A, for example, or investment and whatever, which we probably do that too, what's important is the build culture. Because innovation is not just about the output, but innovation is also about the culture. If you wanna create an awesome product, it come back with the culture of the organization, the culture to innovate, the diversity of thinking. So that's why this whole unique approach to innovation, we build it. 

Right when I joined the organization around one and a half years ago, I felt now, this is becoming a growth machine. The machine is working. As you probably can see, there was a bunch of new products that we tested or launched to the market in the past year. That was a different story with this company years ago. And I hope this is not only showing to the public or to the consumer that we're continuously creating new products to meet what their expectation is, but also to take our friends within the industry, we can do it. Why don't you do it? Then the more companies doing it, the better. Because we're continuously thinking about our consumer, how can we provide as organization a better product for our consumer, especially with a lot of like challenges that we're facing today, from health perspective, from wellness perspective? We're just one player. We need more players that can provide a more valuable product to consumers. So yeah. So that's how we do innovation in Ocean Spray.

Erin: Wow. So much there to unpack. I have a few questions for you, a few follow-up questions for you on that. So you mentioned some of the products that Ocean Spray has announced and revealed. Can you speak to some of those on the podcast?

Rizal: I think from the Lighthouse Incubator team, they have tested or launched test market for new brands and new categories. The first one they launched, Atoka. Atoka is an herbal blend product that bring a lot of goodness within the ingredients as a tea tonic. So now actually direct-to-consumer. This is the only brand without direct-to-consumer in our portfolio. So if you go to atokawellness.com, you can see all this product line, but it's pretty much herbal blend tea. If you like, you know, like, try to create a better ingredient product, and then once you have a better impact for your body, Atoka could be one of the solutions for you. So the way I'm looking at is, you know, a kombucha. Remember, like, people love kombucha, right? So this is like a kombucha like with the taste and aftertaste that you're familiar with. Because some consumer having struggled with kombucha because of like, the taste is so different, right, but the benefit is awesome. So we try to create a better experience with using herbal ingredients with benefits of kombucha with a very better taste. So that's the first one. We launched it in November or December last year.

And then the second one, we test-launched the new brand called Dabbly. Dabbly was born with the idea to bringing and use cranberry as a key ingredient for beauty within. So the idea is to disrupt sun care or sun protection market because everything is always be like, you know, you put on your skin. What if you can protect your skin, you can protect yourself and using something from the inside? So we launched gummies that can help consumers to actually protect their skin from sun exposure. So the brand called Dabbly. Please check them out. It's super cool, very disruptive. That was launched in February this year.

And then the next launch was pretty awesome because we're probably one of the first in the industry in a big company. There's a lot of like startup companies out there doing it, but in the big company, we're probably one of the first. We launched our CBD beverage. So we have two SKUs, tastes so great, only calories, and not only with CBD but also added with other ingredients that are clinically proven in driving that consumer benefit. So whether you need to be energized or whether you need to be calmer or calm down, you know, like, get some relax time, right, after those crazy days, whatsoever. So we have this product, two products, and the name of this brand called CarryOn. So we're testing this in Colorado, where the state is allowing some of the, you know, food and beverage CBD products in the market. It's been great results so far. A lot of positive feedback from consumer.

And then the last one, the Lighthouse have been able to launch, actually just a few weeks ago, Tally-Ho, the first brand and product in our portfolio that's focusing for pets, in this case dog. So we created, you know, product that's pretty much like a little drop of water to the dog's water, but with three different benefits. One is for oral health, one is for emotional health, like calming, and then there's another one, I can provide you more details on that. But these four new brands and disrupting four categories is part of our strategy in pushing the boundaries beyond our chews and dried fruit. So this is amazing. The team has done fantastic work. Within less than 15 months, they delivered 4, which personally, I'm so impressed. I've never seen as much speed as they do, but also doing it in a very smart approach. And they committed to agility, and they committed to entrepreneurship approach.

Erin: Yeah, those products definitely sound fascinating. And I can't wait to check them out more. So when you spoke about the team, the Lighthouse team, and the new products, are the products something that are developed in-house, or do people come to you and that team with an idea and you helped? Just helped a little bit.

Rizal: I think it's coming from internal. Like, we start from consumer. When I said consumer meaning consumer insight. So we have to make sure that there are some pain points, there is jobs to be done, there's problem statement that we need to solve. So you think that consumer insights and consumer pain points, we come and creating this whole design sprint as a team, and really exercise and brainstorm, "What options do we have?" And we are guided with four different lenses. And I'm happy to share this because this is kind of our key element that's doing innovation. The first one is user desirability. Make sure that there is desire from our consumer on this idea. The second one is business viability. We can create a business that's perfectly sustainable for the organization. And the third one is technically viable. We know how to make it. And last one is sustainable. Sustainable from, are these products creating impact to our environment, positive impact, as well as to the people that live within the environment?

So using these four lenses, it's guiding the whole journey of product development. So the idea came from consumer insight. We built all these new products in-house, and some of them partnering with some of the co-manufacturers outside or some of the key partners along the product development journey, some of our vendors, some of our ingredient partners, they help us throughout this journey, and creating a powerful product development that resulted with some of our innovation launches that I just mentioned, and also other things that we already launched in the market as well.

Erin: Out of curiosity, is there meaning behind the name Lighthouse? Why that name for the incubator program?

Rizal: Yeah. So there are some also great reasoning behind it. And I think the Lighthouse represents guidance, strength, and hope. And as we know, Ocean Spray really rethinking about their portfolio and rethinking their innovation for the next 90 years. So Lighthouse is becoming that, like, pillar for the company, the people that work every day to create amazing product for our organization, as well as for our consumer, as representation of our hope, strength, and guidance. And hopefully, it will deliver what we're intentionally thinking about driving innovation through our Lighthouse Incubator.

Erin: I like that. I like that.

Rizal: Thank you.

Erin: I'm always fascinated to hear the reasons behind some of the names that are chosen for things.

Rizal: Yeah. So for example, Lighthouse is one of the incubators by the way we're looking at like new disruptive categories and whatever. Internally, we're also creating a new stage-gate process for innovation, product development, and commercialization and we call it Compass. So think about Compass, Lighthouse, and Ocean Spray. The story is connected, cohesive. So for stage-gate process we call it Compass because it gives us the right direction where we should be going, from an idea to a test market, to scaling up, becoming manufacturers in our plan or with our co-packers partner and whatever. So this whole stage-gate process in product development, we call it Compass. So it's just building to each other, and it's just so powerful, and people just love it. And they can see it. They can really feel excited about it in driving this new dimension of innovation for Ocean Spray.

Erin: Right. Those are such strong symbols too, you know, Compass, the Lighthouse, and the beacon in the storm offering some direction and guidance.  

When I was on the website, I noticed that there is a Plug and Play innovation accelerator. Can you speak to that a little more?

Rizal: Yeah. So as I mentioned a little earlier that we try to reframe and rethink about how we do innovation. So the Lighthouse Incubator is one of the examples. We also have our core innovation that's focusing our core business like juice, dried food, and snacking. The third one that we're doing is we talk about how we engage and partner with startup ecosystem and community. So the biggest startup ecosystem in the country, one of them is Plug and Play, based in Silicon Valley. It's an innovation accelerator, and it's thousands of startups within their community, hundreds of big corporations out of it.

So we partnered with them fall last year with the objective to driving strategic and innovative growth for the cooperative by leveraging a global startup ecosystem in focusing to solve our key business challenges with more creative, disruptive, and agile approach. With partnering with Plug and Play, so then we can really harness the awesome seven verticals. When I said seven verticals, they have like pillars, like verticals in their organization, which including food, beverage, and health category. So then we can sit down with startup companies that play within that vertical, we can co-create together, we can run pilots together and overcoming and come up with greater impact for health and wellness marketplace.

So it's just awesome because we know that to solve a problem, a bigger problem, we cannot do it ourselves. We sometimes realize that we need to bring more people, more smart people on the table. And we are on the table now to solve some of our key challenges in our organization, as well as in our industry, and getting some help and running some pilots and tests. And we cannot do this unless we were connected through Plug and Play. So yeah, so that's kind of our different approach to innovation besides continuously developing and creating new products. But we also need to tackle a larger health and wellness challenge for our company and our industry. And this is something bigger and larger, and bringing the largest startup ecosystem in the country will be very beneficial in driving that plan.

Erin: Great. In addition to Plug and Play, are there other ways that Ocean Spray has committed to pay it forward, either with its growers, consumers?

Rizal: Yeah. So we have done a lot. And I think before I'm even talking more about some of the examples that we've done, I think this is true to who we are as a company. Because they were for farmers, there's something about it that we're not a public organization. You know, the way we think is whatever that we can create, the profits, and coming back to our farmers and our growers for their family, for their workers in the farm. So this is just how we operate as a company. This is the business model, right?

So a few examples to just really creating bigger impact with our social costs, for example, as part of our pay it forward, so when COVID hit, like, sometimes in March and April, Atoka just launched our DTC. We launched FirstRespondersFirst and partnering with them, actually. So we created like a partnership with FirstRespondersFirst in providing our herbal tonics and wellness shots to our first responders in New York City and our Brew product, which is our new product at the time to launch, which is coffee and cranberry juice, donated to top ICU hospital to keep our healthcare professional energetic and nourished. This is so quick. Like when COVID hit and we know that a lot of people, first responders put their lives to the highest risk, we just, as quickly as possible to partner with other organizations to help in supporting these workers.

And also, additionally, Ocean Spray work with state authorities and non-profits in each of our grower regions to provide 100,000 meals to families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. So, you know, as we know, hundreds of thousands of families in our communities depend on our temporarily closed school systems and other local systems to feed their families. And Ocean Spray is doing our part to help ensuring no family goes hungry during this time. So we provided 100,000 meals through Feeding America, the Second Harvest, Northwest Harvest, and Boston Resiliency Fund, and working on the partnership with the Red Cross to donate cranberry products worldwide. So again, this is important for us because we wanna be an example and we wanna bring more organization to make a difference, especially during our tough time. So this is our commitment to connecting our farms to our families.

Erin: I love that. I love what you guys are doing. I think that's great. I think we need more of that in the world. Okay. I have one last question for you. And it's a very hard-hitting, very hard-hitting journalism here. Are there any fun facts about cranberries that you care to share with our listeners?

Rizal: I love the question. Oh my God, that is so funny. So, you know, I think...people don't know much about this, but I think this is a great time to share with the audience that the cranberry has a myriad of health benefits that we are working to make more known. And so from anti-inflammatory properties that can prevent like certain cancers and diseases, to antioxidants, polyphenols, that suppressing of blueberries being the only food that contains type A proanthocyanidins, make sure that I'm saying it correctly, which prevent bacteria from sticking to cells in your body. And for sure, cranberry is a superfood. So I don't think a lot of people know about it, but man, this is one of the most powerful foods that we have in the country. And we should be proud of it.

Erin: Yeah. I wonder how many people listening within our demographic just think of cranberries as the juice you mix with vodka. I hope more people think of cranberries outside of that, but I guess we'll find out if anyone comments on this podcast.

Rizal: I think we'll find out more. Yeah. And I think it's also well known for some people, but helping them to...you know, reducing some of the UTI problems, especially with women or even with males, right? So it's kind of known for some of the demographics but actually more than that, beyond just UTI. So this is awesome. And I think the more people, especially now how this is becoming more critical and more important, and the way I'm looking at it, it's a reflection that health should be for everyone. Health is not for some people that just, you know, have access to health insurances, health prices that's so expensive to get a product that's actually healthy and whatsoever. So I think this is a great way for us to commit to something that's powerful with our cranberries.

Erin: I like that. I think that's such a great way to wrap this up, too, is that last statement of health should be for everyone. I think that's such a vital thing that gets lost a lot anymore. So I like that. Yeah, I like wrapping up our conversation today with a very informative, smart, and great way of looking not only at the cranberry fruit, but what Ocean Spray is doing that health should be for everyone.

So thank you so much for talking with me today. It has been highly informative. I can't wait to go read and do a deeper dive on all the products that Ocean Spray and the Lighthouse program has put out into the world. You know, we'll link things in the show notes for the podcast so those who are listening can link and check out as well. But thank you again so much, Rizal.

Rizal: Yeah, thank you for having me. And thank you for the conversation. "Food For Thought" is awesome. So thank you.

Erin: Yes. All right. All right, everyone listening. Thanks so much. Have a great day.

Rizal: Bye. Take care.

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