What does it take a launch a new brand?
With a postcard view of Lake Superior out her window and her husband and dog nearby, in a cabin last winter on Minnesota’s beautiful North Shore, Laurie Kerschner began the hours of experimentation that would eventually lead to a new snack – and a new brand – for General Mills.
Who says innovation always has to happen in a lab?
In her small cabin’s kitchen, one batch at a time and several trips to a grocery store for more shredded cheese later, Laurie learned what worked – and what didn’t – to create a different kind of cheese snack.
“We were up at the cabin on vacation for the holidays and it was cold so we weren’t going outside to do anything,” says Laurie, a senior technology manager. “I always have a project while I’m up there. But I don’t normally make a lot of stuff for work at home!”
When her vacation was over, she returned home and made a few more creations of the snack in her kitchen there. And when she was ready, she brought all her samples into the office to show the product team.
“I probably put about 20 prototypes on the table that ranged from looking promising to horrible, and it was kind of the start of it all.”
From there, on the development side, Laurie worked with several colleagues who then brought their expertise to the project (including some important insight about cheese) and together they worked for months last year to refine the production process.
The humble start for FROLLIcKS All Cheese Crisps is a great example of how our Snacks division is setting aside traditional thinking around product development and brand building.
FROLLIcKS comes out of the division’s New Category Expansion group, created in 2012, with a focus on finding new better-for-you snacks.
“It’s literally like a small entrepreneurial business within General Mills to create the snacking categories of the future,” says Jonathan Scearcy, associate marketing manager.
By design, it also can be about creating new brands, as opposed to coming up with something new for an existing General Mills brand.
“It’s very exciting to get to launch an entirely new brand. That isn’t an opportunity that presents itself very often,” says Amanda Liu, Marketing Manager. “It has its own unique set of challenges, but we are able to tap into people throughout General Mills as well as entrepreneurs who have a ton of experience doing this and learn from them.”
Jonathan and Amanda, and others on the team, told me they knew they were onto something with the cheese crisps when they first started consumer testing in stores across the U.S. People said they loved the taste, and told the team it was something they had never seen before.
The FROLLIcKS All Cheese Crisps are available in cheddar, pepper jack and Monterey Jack varieties.
They’re only available in the Denver area right now. The team chose that market so they could learn in a smaller region, to gauge consumer reaction and make adjustments to the ongoing rollout – in stores like Target, Walmart and Kroger – and then scale it as fast as they can when the time is right.
“With FROLLIcKS, we’re taking something people love and want to eat more of – cheese – and we’re delivering it in a way they’ve never seen before,” Jonathan says.
But it won’t be just about cheese in the future. New products are on the way soon, under the FROLLIcKS brand name.
“I think we have a very big vision for where we want to go with the brand and the products,” says Amanda. “We want to create high-protein, real-food snacks, which we think could potentially change the way we think about snacking today. We’re creating a new category or segment, that doesn’t really have a home today, that we think is going to change the landscape of snacking in the grocery store.”
So, where did the FROLLIcKS name come from?
“We wanted something that would convey simple and natural ingredients, but we also wanted it to be fun and spirited and light hearted,” Amanda says. “We also were looking for something that could expand beyond just cheese.”
If you’re in the Denver area, try the FROLLIcKS cheese crisps and let us know what you think.
The rest of you, be patient, a new product – that got its start in a kitchen in a cabin – will be on the way.