KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- The food industry has to learn how to understand and provide solutions to the unsolved problems of consumers, according to Peter Dunn, president, Borden Foods Corp., Columbus, Ohio.
He told an audience at Western Michigan University's 35th annual Food Marketing Conference here late last month, "There are no tired brands, only tired brand managers."
Spun off in the mid-1990s from Borden's, Borden Foods specializes in the manufacture of pasta, pasta sauce and bouillon.
Dunn explained Borden begins the creation of new products -- and the review of existing product lines -- by looking at consumer problems.
He gave two examples of how Borden has used this process to re-invent an existing product and to invent a new product line.
The existing product was Wyler's bouillon. "What are you going to do with bouillon?" Dunn asked the audience. "It's been around since before the Middle Ages. Roman soldiers were using bouillon.
"One of our competitors introduced a product that dissolved in 30 seconds. Our cube literally took 10 minutes to dissolve. It was a better doorstop than it was a seasoning."
Although Wyler's was way behind on product performance, it wasn't doing badly in all areas. "We had a better brand image," said Dunn. "But the competitor's price was better.
The company "initiated a major effort to reinvent our bouillon product," he said. The consumer "wants a special taste without the hassle of making it."
Borden's solution, Dunn reported, was finely ground "bouillon that you shake and pour right into your dish."
Bouillon shakers, he said, offering both traditional and new bouillon flavors, "transformed Wyler's from a rarely used ingredient into an everyday seasoning."
Dunn said the brand's market share went from an annual decline of 7% to an increase of more than 10%. Overall sales of bouillon across all brands went from a 3% annual decline to a 5% increase.
The lesson he learned from this experience, Dunn said, was "if you don't like the category you're in, re-invent yourself into another category."
He said Borden uses the same approach to invent new products. "In 1955," he said, "people were spending an hour preparing dinner. Now, we spend 15 minutes."
The consumer's unsolved problem, he noted, was serving "a great-tasting pasta meal without the hassle of making it.
"The challenge is not providing convenience but convenience and taste in a way that really delivers."
To develop its solution, Dunn said, Borden looked at what people did not like about frozen pasta dinners. He said research found the frozen meals had poor texture, were difficult to microwave and offered servings that were too small.
Borden's solution is Pasta Anytime, "a shelf-stable pasta and sauce ready in three minutes," according to Dunn, who assured his audience that it is superior to frozen not only in size (15 1/2 ounces compared to the typical 10 1/2 ounce frozen pasta entree) and cooking time, but also in taste.
"It's an exciting new product," he said. Borden plans to introduce it nationwide this month with a $14 million advertising campaign.
"It is also an almost perfect reflection" of the corporate mission Dunn had outlined at the start of his talk.
"We have a mission for serving consumers at our company -- to provide food and flavors from the harvest better than it has ever been done before.
"We mean that literally. We mean that in every category in which we compete, every year or so, we intend to bring news to the category that is significantly better than it has ever been done before."