Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate ~ Gerber Singles- Adult Baby Food

Gerber has been synonymous with babies, well, since the company’s inception in 1927. So why Gerber thought that adults would buy something marked Gerber Singles for themselves for dinner is beyond me.

The idea, in 1974, was genius. At this point in time more families were experiencing both parents working, since people were away from their homes for longer, the idea of fast home cooked meals was fantastic. In fact, Hamburger Helper was introduced to the public in 1971, amongst other still produced fast dinner options. But what went wrong for Gerber?

 ImageFirst of all, the packaging should of hid the brand name of Gerber, or at least put it in small font on the back of the label. It also should have said something along the lines of a ‘quick, healthy meal for busy adults’. So at least the customer almost knew what the purpose of the mystery mush in the jar was.

Secondly, Gerber should have put more thought process into what the final product was going to be. By placing baby food in a jar and giving it a fancy name, it didn’t really represent the original idea of a ‘quick healthy meal for adults’.

Needless to say, the product was pulled from food store shelves and returned to Gerber within 3 months.

How did such a big corporation blow such a big idea? Gerber was a baby food company, they were making money selling baby food, and they were hoping that by slapping on a new label they could bring in a different scope of the market. As with all larger corporations there is a fork in the road when it comes to a new avenue: can you make more money doing the same thing that you already do without having to throw any more money at it or do you invest in the idea to its fullest and create a new spin on what you are already good at doing?

Gerber went the route of attempting to create a new line without investing in it and the product backfired. Today, Gerber makes toddler food trays with separate vegetables and pastas, I could see those meals being created in a larger tray form and geared toward adults- perhaps they should re-visit this idea today.

Odwalla on the other hand is a company who decided to go the latter route, they stepped out with innovation, researched and created a smoothie and cereal bars. Instead of just marketing the juice they already made, and labeling it something else, Odwalla put money into their ideas, researched and marketed successful new products.

Now the route to getting a new product within your organizations isn’t cut and dry. There are many factors that all decisions rely on such as profit margins, stock holders and profit growth. If you’re a publicly traded company you may not have to ability to convince the shareholders to make a little less now so that they can potentially more in the future. Established companies can only innovate if everyone is on board. If the executives aren’t up for change, then the company needs to stick with what it does best, making money at what it already does, without innovation.

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2 thoughts on “Why Big Companies Can’t Innovate ~ Gerber Singles- Adult Baby Food

  1. Joe,

    I can actually see why Gerber thought they could offer this product to working adults. Since many adults/parents are familiar with buying Gerber for their children, which provides a “healthy” meal for their baby in an effiicient time, why couldn’t Gerber do the same for them? I see where they developed the idea, but their action plan was terrible. I agree with you that the label should have been changed so it wasn’t the “mystery” jar you stated earlier.

    It’s a shame the idea wasn’t thorougly thought out because look at Odwalla….same idea, 100% different action plan. They developed a healthy shake for adults thats really marketed a large and diverse group of adults, whether it was adults on a diet, or athletes adding more protein to their diet. Gerber did not address their target group in a way to sell the product.

    Great job on the post!

  2. Hi Joe,

    I enjoyed reading your post. I completely agree with your assessment that Gerber went for efficiency at the expense of effectiveness and it clearly failed. The truth is, aging can be hard enough on the ego without having to revert to baby food for a meal. Gerber forgot to get the voice of the customer for their new product. If they had, they would probably have understood the relationship between Gerber and baby, as well as the fact that adults don’t want to eat baby food, but busy adults were in need of pre-packaged meals.

    Your point about innovating only when executives are up for change is an interesting one. What do you do when your executives aren’t up for change, or worse, they think they are up for change, but they really aren’t? It’s an interestng delima, because companies that don’t innovate won’t be sustainable. I suppose your response to the question would very much depend on the amount of influence you have at the company and/or what’s at stake for you. If you are heavily invested in the company it would be much more difficult to walk away, conversely if not, you may decide to jump ship and work for a company that is more fluid.

    Of course, just because management is up for change doesn’t guarentee sustainability. My colleague’s wife works for a company that has a CEO that is insanely energetic and fully embraces change. Unfortunately, the culture at the company is toxic because he does not honor the chain of command and he gives direct orders that conflict with orders given by managers. This creates confusion and chaos. Additionally, he tends to “forget” previous orders and gets upset when he doesn’t see the results he expects. I say all this just to highlight the importance of not just innovation, but leadership as well.

    Again, great post!

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