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What is the latest food innovation at Starbucks?
It's "Cake Pops," or cake balls on a stick! When I first found Cake Pops in Starbucks, I got really excited because I thought Starbucks was leading the way again with food innovation. If you remember, I gave Starbucks credit with food innovation for its single serve Via instant coffee. So I started Googling "Cake Pops" and found they are not a new concept. They have been popularized by Bakerella.com, CakePopCo.com, Martha Stewart and others.
But I will credit Starbucks with another win for food innovation, because leadership sometimes requires someone or some company to commercialize an innovative concept. Having a great food idea or concept isn't enough; true food innovation requires a person to fully commercialize the idea. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but had it not been commercialized it would have remained in his laboratory notebook as an idea only.
Starbucks Petites Category
As sensational as Starbucks Cake Pops are, they a part of a bigger idea at Starbucks – that is the company's new petites category. In addition to Cake Pops, this category includes mini cupcakes, dessert squares and Whoopie Pies – another personal favorite.
Starbucks has been known for its dessert line up for years, which typically included traditional muffins, scones, coffee cakes, etc. But the petites category is unique in that it offers a smaller serving size, with items that are fun to eat while drinking a cup of coffee. I like Starbucks petites category because it represents an innovative dessert category unique to the QSR/fast casual restaurant industries. The portion sizes are small to offset the high caloric content. The category can also be changed quickly to accommodate seasonal and holiday promotions. Continual evolution of the products and their taste keeps customers coming back for more on a regular basis.
The Novelty of Cake Pops – Artistic Expression
What makes me such a big fan of Cake Pops certainly isn't their high calorie and carb content? As I was checking out a few Cake Pop websites, two words came to mind – artistic expression. I not only discovered the passion of Cake Pop entrepreneurs, but I fell in love with the depth of their artistic expression. I saw the creativity of Cake Pops that was represented by lady bugs, candy apples, flowers, character personifications, wedding accents (www.cakepopco.com), etc. Cake Pops can be decorated to fit any occasion, season of the year, birthday, wedding anniversary or promotional event.
The true source of Cake Pop innovation
Without taking anything away from Starbucks because I compliment the company for successfully commercializing Cake Pops, but I believe the true innovation came from small independent bakers. Unfortunately, most innovation originates from small, independent, creative entrepreneurs who depend on their creativity to build and grow small independent business such as Bakerella and Cake Pop Company. It makes me wonder why companies spend enormous sums of money on research and development to commercialize other people's ideas. But at least Starbucks has successfully commercialized and marketed an innovative new product – something few bigger chains can boast about.
New Food Innovation Process Workshop in June
The solution is for restaurant companies to commit to establishing and developing new food innovation processes within their corporate environments that are independent from the old established processes. The Food Innovation Institute will be sponsoring a two day workshop in June 2011, at Johnson & Wales Culinary School in Denver. This event will be a pilot class that will be used to formulate best practices for the restaurant industry. Please contact me if you are interested.
Please contact me at email@example.com or follow the Food Innovation Institute website (www.foodbevbiz.com) for more information on our 2011 Food Innovation Workshops.
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFCs development team of Popcorn Chicken, now a $1B international product invented by Gene Gagliardi.