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Rebranding Locational Consumption

Eric Hughes, Sr. Director of Product Development, Caribou Coffee
Akihiko Tse
January 8th, 2014
Eric Hughes, Senior Director of Product Development at Caribou Coffee, recognizes that the majority of the business revolves around a customer base looking to kick start their day with a fresh dose of coffee. But beyond just growing the pre-11 a.m. business, Hughes is looking for ways to serve customers later throughout the day, and even well into the evening. Having worked for close to a decade at Dairy Queen – rising through the ranks from Brand Manager to Director of Product and Brand Marketing before making the switch to Caribou – Hughes sees the future of Caribou as not just serving a clientele looking for premium coffee, but also including a product-driven focus on breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks and dessert options as growing spaces of opportunity.

Four questions with Eric:

1. How does your team generate new ideas?
It's sort of a traditional aspect right now, but we’re scouring the market looking at what different people are doing in the coffee space we need to make sure we're keeping pace [with our competitors.] But something that's been interesting is looking outside of the coffee space; looking at what people are doing in other types of restaurants. People kick start their day with coffee in the morning. Likewise, our morning day part is where the majority of our business resides. But really, after 10 o'clock, we see a lot of these people – we have a name for them, the "social relaxers" – they come in to enjoy all types of meetings and conversations. Mums are hanging out with each other or with their kids, business people are coming in for meetings, and of course we have people who are connecting to their work places via the free web access we provide. People are essentially connecting to each other in our coffee shops, and we're facilitating those connections through our beverage and food products. We're looking outside the coffee space and looking at lunch destinations, dessert locations, looking at bakeries et cetera, for how people are engaging in their meals and snacks throughout the day. We all know snacking is increasing – I think since 2010 the number of times people snack in the day has increased 25 per cent. So even recent history shows that snacking habits are going up, and we're trying to figure out how to appease the customer who’s looking to snack throughout the day. It's not going to be about three main meals, especially when people are meeting with each other. So we're looking everywhere at different ideas and different thoughts that can spark our minds as to what we can serve the customer, whether it's food or beverage.

2. How do you reset your team to be creative?
One thing that I've encouraged here, which I did at Dairy Queen as well, is just getting out and doing something outside of the office. I've learned that whether you're playing guitar, riding a roller coaster, drawing, or doing something else creative and active with your mind, it’s different than just sitting at your computer and surfing the net trying to generate the next creative idea. The creative juices get flowing when we’re engaged in activity, and that bleeds over into being creative with food prep as far as what we’re creating from different recipes. When people get out of the office space and into a different place of reflection or activity, that's when they flex their creative muscles, and flexing those muscles allows for greater creativity when we’re ideating. And of course, every time we travel somewhere, we visit different food destinations. Whether it’s a small bakery or a finer-dining restaurant, there are different things we pick up and remember as we're seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing, and feeling different environments.

3. What makes an innovative culture, and how do you create a culture of innovation?
I think what makes an innovative culture is when people are doing different things, even outside of their traditional workspace. When you look at the Googles and the Apples, what these people are doing outside of their normal tasks is really creative stuff. I would say the same is true here at Caribou. When we're able to get outside and flex our creative muscles in a different way, it brings back innovation into our traditional products while also creating thought around non-traditional products and non-traditional opportunities. It's very nebulous and hard to describe, and I think I'm still discovering what that process looks like because we're moving at a million miles an hour. Certainly the daily tasks, the tactics we're engaged in every day, that's enough for anybody to do in their regular job. The challenge for us is to always try and rise above that, and that's where we have to schedule the different, nebulous creative time to truly be innovative.

4. How important do you think the integration between one’s work life and their private life is to the process of creative innovation?
It's huge. It's absolutely huge. It's been written about in so many places, and I totally agree, that the work day of yesterday where work was work and home was home has completely changed. The two worlds have totally merged. And the lines will continue to blur more as Millenials come in to the mainstream of the market place. I’ve seen this spread throughout companies over the past few years. I can't ignore that employees with whom I work are keeping a close eye on what's going on at home at the same time as they're in meetings trying to figure out what the next beverage or next food item is at Caribou. It’s a flow and a dance that all of us have to go through. When we’re at work, our minds are also at home, and when we’re at home, our minds are also at work. I can't and don't expect somebody to do all of their best thinking while they're at the Caribou office; they don't. Some of their best thinking happens when they're off biking, running or taking their dog for a walk. There are just so many different ways that our minds are connected. I don't want to be cliché and say life is work – it's not. But certainly, work is a part of life and it's a part of who we are at home. And that’s a great thing because as we’re more authentic in our own lives, we have greater empathy with our customers’ lives; leading to more innovative products that are created out of a sense of understanding.
References: linkedin, cariboucoffee