Suzanne Zimny is the Head of Innovation at Vimto, a UK-based company that manufactures soft drinks. With Trend Hunter, she discussed the importance of fostering an open work environment, being inclusive of different perspectives, and how travel opens the door to inspiration.
How does your team generate great ideas? Do you have certain rituals to make creativity happen?
I’m always very mindful to create an environment where the team feels free to challenge each other. We don’t settle for the status quo and I urge my team to ask "why" and "how" before we get to the "what." I love to work amongst creative thinkers and spending time in the blue sky or fuzzy front end of innovation. But I also make sure that we involve action oriented "realists" to force us to make decisions and get things done.
I think the company’s biggest strength is that we have a lot of fun together, and we all fully trust and respect each other. This way we feel free to push boundaries and come up with ideas that may sound crazy or unrealistic, but could very well be the next big thing.
What are some barriers to innovation? How do you get around them?
The biggest barrier to me are people’s fixed mindsets: "it cannot be done" or "we tried something like this before and it did not work." We should never disregard previous work or experience. Equally, we should stay open to other approaches or angles that were not considered in the past. I am interested to know why something did not work, especially if an idea is still a hot topic or trending. Motivating others, engaging a wide team and being persistent when necessary are important to getting around these barriers. But also, so is knowing when to stop and when we’ve hit a dead end.
How do you identify trends? What resources does your team use to spot trends and insights?
Taking a broach approach, from conventional review of trend reports, to creative brainstorming, and concept creation sessions. Even though we are in the Food and Beverage industry, I don’t only look at this sector for inspiration. Trends and innovation can come from anywhere. I often keep an eye on the fashion industry as they are trendsetters and early adopters to new movements.
Do you have specific rituals for resetting to be creative?
I love to be in nature for outdoor activities or sports. I’m currently living in the North West and there is all this great nature around the corner. Going for a challenging hike up Mount Snowdon or spending a weekend in the Lake District really helps me to clear my head, gives me focus and it removes the noise and distraction from the busy city and office life. Next to that, I love to travel and experience different cultures to open my mind to the unknown, and force myself to look at the world through a more unbiased perspective.
Has there ever been an instance where another industry has influenced an innovation at your company?
Industries are influencing each other all the time – whether we realize it or not. The move to the Internet of Things is obviously impacting the tech companies and they are leading the way. But it also has an impact on our industry and the way we communicate, but also the way we develop products and packaging. A good example is NFC packaging and how this allows us to incorporate electronic developments into the food and drink industry.
What are some examples of things you can do to create a culture of innovation? Enthusiasm is important, as is taking people out of their comfort zones. If people settle in routine, they won’t look for newness and will therefore not be as inspired or as creative as they can be. We’ve been through quite some change over the past year and the innovation team is fairly new within the organisation. So there are still plenty of things we can do to change and improve our culture of innovation. I would love to implement breakout sessions, or even a break-out day every so often, where I give the team the freedom to forget about day-to-day work and focus on anything they want as long as they report back the outcome.
What do you think your industry will look like in 10 years?
10 years is a long time to look ahead in our current world. Look at how the world has changed in the past 10 years; Facebook was launched in 2006, Smartphones were not around, we did not yet see WiFi as a basic human need. The food and drink world moves much slower, but it all impacts each other. On pack communication is urging people to get online and visit the brand website, products are promoted through bloggers and vloggers or through Instagram, Snapchat, and more. Conventional packaging can be turned into virtual reality devices and NFC packaging is on the rise.
What will be different in 10 years time? I think we won’t be focusing on categories: food can be consumed in new liquid forms, drinks can be eaten, it can be indulgent, and give you mental energy and be healthy at the same time. It will also be tailor-made for you or by you.
The way we buy our products will be different as well in ways that we probably can’t even imagine today. We just need to make sure we keep our eyes open so that we can spot these changes early on to ensure that our products stay relevant.
What’s the most unconventional thing you have done to get creative inspiration?
That depends on what you consider to be unconventional! I don’t think you have to be unconventional to get creative inspiration, you have to do what works best for you. I get lots of inspiration during my travels. Walking through a small village in Colombia, experiencing different colors, smells, music, and behavior. Or being amazed by Tokyo: where the sky's the limit, and people are so used to new impulses or new products, but still have a very strong sense of tradition. Again, I strongly believe that trying new things, and not being constrained by habits, will give the best inspiration.
Have you identified patterns between recent and historical trends in your industry?
A lot of things (or some would argue everything) move in circles, as do trends. Again, just look at the fashion industry where trends come and go, and then come back years later in a slightly different way. Within our industry, we see that we have moved from using local and recognizable ingredients, to global influences and tastes from the world, to now going back to the importance of local foods and provenance.
In general terms, what do you believe is the best way for brands to connect to their consumers? How do you use this approach to connect to yours?
Brands need to understand their consumers and understand their needs. They need to be, and stay relevant to the changing needs, without losing their brand identity. I think the key is to stay close to our consumers and build a strong level of trust with them. Vimto has a strong presence in the North West and we have some very loyal consumers in this area. The level of trust is certainly there!
The trick is to keep your core consumers, but also attract new consumers which might have completely different needs and behaviors. There are lots of marketing techniques to get this done, but as a company, we believe that we should be transparent and honest about our products. The easiest way to do this is to create products we believe in ourselves!
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