BOSTON — Innovation has been a driving force at Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. since its internal Lighthouse incubator launched last fall. The goal was to push the cooperative outside of its comfort zone by ideating and bringing new products to market in a five-month timeframe.
That entrepreneurial mindset has helped the company navigate uncertainty during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
“Agility is more important than before,” said Rizal Hamdallah, global chief innovation officer at Ocean Spray. “When you already are in that game and this type of situation happens, it tests your mentality.”
The company is launching its Atoka line of herbalist craft beverages direct-to-consumer. Atoka’s herbal tonics and herbal shots — the first new products ushered in through the Lighthouse incubator — debuted in Boston late last year and were scheduled to roll out across the country in early 2020.
With retailers focused on keeping shelves stocked and protecting customers and workers, Atoka’s strategy has shifted to e-commerce and driving social engagement online.
“It wasn’t our plan, or at least it was not a top priority originally,” Mr. Hamdallah said. “It happened in the past six or seven weeks.”
For each product purchased, a donation will be made to a health care worker on the front lines of COVID-19. Ocean Spray also is partnering with FirstRespondersFirst, an initiative created by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global and the CAA Foundation, to provide herbal tonics and shots to first responders across the country.
While some companies are putting the brakes on new product development during and after the COVID-19 crisis, innovation at Ocean Spray won’t be slowing down, Mr. Hamdallah said.
The cooperative has continued testing new products and gaining insights from home-bound consumers during the pandemic. It is utilizing digital access and tactics to test a new CBD beverage in Colorado.
“We provide the guidelines, measurements and tools to help them,” Mr. Hamdallah said. “We’re still learning and getting feedback.”
Agility and innovation will be critical for companies looking to meet changing consumer demands in the wake of the pandemic, he said.
“For a lot of people, it is one or the other,” he said. “You’re either innovating or you aren’t. We never think about an ‘and’ answer. Of course, we have to focus on our supply chain, on our logistics and certain essentials, but this is also the time to be asking questions. How should we reframe our business model or rethink our approach to the future? The consumer is changing. If you wait 18 or 24 months to react, you’ll be late.”
One important change is a greater emphasis on wellness.
“Now, health is for everybody,” Mr. Hamdallah said. “The challenge for companies, including us, is how we bring this health and wellness product to everyday consumers, to people that live in rural areas or people who can only afford a $2 product instead of a $10 product.”
“Now, health is for everybody.” — Rizal Hamdallah, Ocean Spray
Consumers also are zeroing in on quality.
“Now they’re asking, ‘Help me understand what you do differently,’” he said. “People are seeking more information. Because of that, the word quality is going to be redefined. As a company that is responsible for millions of people, that is going to be critical.”
A third change is a greater focus on value and accessibility.
“When you talk about value and accessibility people always talk about ‘cheaper, cheaper, cheaper,’” he said. “It’s also about providing different forms of easy access for people to get the product within that affordability, whether it’s a bigger pack, more price packs, or a different business model or system model. All of this goes back to innovation, back to the thinking and reframing to our business model that we had before COVID-19.”
Ocean Spray’s commitment to innovation doesn’t end with the Lighthouse incubator. The cooperative also is partnering with Plug & Play, a California-based investor, accelerator and corporate innovation platform, to provide resources for startups that may lose their business completely because of the pandemic.
“This partnership also helps us be a part of the conversation about the future of technology,” Mr. Hamdallah said. “We want to be at the table, partnering with key innovators from around the world with technology that can really change the landscape of R&D. We can partner with them in solving some of the challenges that we as a company are facing or that we share.”