From the Lab to the Street: Danone Adopts a Start-Up Mentality

Handcrafted jewelry, sustainable sneakers, the newest handbag and gnarly sunglasses; today you’ll find all of that and a whole lot more at your local pop-up. Pop-ups are the retail flavor-of-the-day, so when French food company Danone’s Manifesto Innovation Accelerator*, wanted to test AYEM, a new almond based breakfast bowl with 15g of protein and Omega 3 perfect for folks on the go, they didn’t invite a group of pre-selected tasters to a bland lab. Instead, they went directly to them, by opening a pop-up store for three weeks in London. 

Over the course of 3000 sampling conversations, the team was able to conduct in-person A/B testing, product sales, launch a direct to consumer model and gauge customer interest & feedback. In addition to the live interactions, they also utilized social media marketing strategies to amplify the product reach. Through the pop-up, the team wanted to tap customers’ taste buds to tweak and improve the offering by zeroing in on the needs of their niche community tribes.

Fast, lean and nimble, Danone’s pop-up adventures are one way the company is tapping into the startup zeitgeist to roll out new products, develop innovative packaging and even connect with consumers to get their immediate feedback. 


Bold, new and healthy

Danone’s path to innovation goes well beyond the streets of London. In the Netherlands, the company opened its Design Kitchen at Nutricia Research to experiment with a potentially disruptive ingredient, the mushroom. The fungus, it turns out, is filled with amino acids and other nutrients necessary for a baby’s health. When it comes to baby food, carrots and sweet potatoes are the vegetables of choice, mushrooms less so. But the company found ways to include mushrooms by involving parents, not just chefs and nutritionists, in the creation of the recipe. “Instead of bringing the consumer in at the last moment and revealing the product to them, which doesn’t always result in the outcome we want, we involve the consumers right from the start,” says Christophe Perthuisot, VP Research & Innovation at Danone. “We actually co-design the recipes with the parents,” he adds.

Packaging 2.0

Speaking of design: Not too long ago, creating a new water bottle—let’s say one with a better grip—could take months. An entire year could go by before the bottle and its stronger grip hit supermarket shelves. That’s where the 3D printer comes in.

These days, 3D printers are used to make a whole lot of different things, including jet engines. But in Danone’s case, the printers are drastically shortening the time it takes to roll out new packages or bottles. “Going from a drawing on a piece of paper to a functioning bottle that you can fill with water and close, we can do in 48 hours,” says Perthusiot. “Ten years ago this would have taken us three months.”

Whether popping up with a tasty new trend, inventing disruptive infant formulas or speed-printing water bottles, Danone is listening, fast prototyping, testing and delivering. It’s a startup approach that today’s consumers want.

Read more about Danone’s Research and Innovation.


*The Manifesto Innovation Accelerator is Danone’s innovation lab supporting a tribe of internal entrepreneurs to accelerate new business models.