Product Innovations That Have Emerged from Crises

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Product Innovations That Have Emerged from Crises

As many news and media articles remind us, innovation is born out of necessity and constraint sparks creativity. The same has proven to be true in times of global crises, where product innovation thrives in companies that capitalize on the opportunity to generate disruptive products, or change where and how products are sold. This has been the case for companies like Tupperware, Solo Health, Meetup.com, iRobot, Apple, and Green Mountain Coffee.

Tupperware

  • In the midst of the Great Recession, the famous food storage brand Tupperware endowed their products with a fresh look, while also expanding product offerings. Not only did Tupperware rethink and refresh their kitchen products, but they also expanded how those products could be sold with the addition of home-based "Tupperware parties" at which products may be sold.
  • In 2009, when discretionary spending was limited, people were foregoing frequent trips to restaurants, opting to cook more at home. Tupperware used this opportunity to release stylish, colorful products, and to expand their product line to include serving platters and bowls that could be used to host informal gatherings at home. The idea was to create products that consumers would be proud to serve food in at parties. The pieces were meant to inspire the feeling of a "girls night out."
  • Additionally, if the host of a party was a registered Tupperware in-home retailer, Tupperware's new products could be sold at some of those very same parties. During the economic downturn, Tupperware provided the opportunity for newly-unemployed and "cash-strapped" individuals to become Tupperware sellers, thus increasing their sales.
  • Globally, Tupperware experienced high growth during 2009. Examples include a 10% increase in the French market, and doubling in sales in Indonesia. One explanation they gave for their success was the "waste-not, want-not" mentality that was prominent during the recession.
  • Other product innovations were made as well. According to Barron's, Tupperware came out with a product that allowed for steaming in the microwave in such a way that food did not get soggy.

Eye-Screening Kiosks

  • Another product born out of the Great Recession in 2008, was the Solo Health (now Pursuant Health) eye kiosk. At the time, the kiosk was placed in locations like Walmart, allowing consumers to check for "eye disease and visual impairment."
  • Bart Foster realized that financial hardship was leading people to cut costs wherever they could, with many of those costs being related to their health. For millions of Americans, eye exams were not deemed necessary, according to Foster. The kiosks allowed for customers to answer health questions, have an eye exam, and receive information concerning their eye health. If they were determined by the machine to be free of eye problems, no payment was owed. If there was an issue, the user would receive a list of doctors. Foster's company received payment from eye doctors who paid to be listed in the kiosk database.
  • The kiosks were immediately successful, demonstrating growth in the first six months. With only 20 machines, Solo Health was able to service over 120,000 customers.

Meetup.Com

  • At the time of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, the world had not yet experienced the boom of social media. Meetup.com, a website that facilitated special interest groups for strangers, was created as a direct result of the 9/11 crisis.
  • The founder, Scott Heiferman, was a New York City resident who witnessed a large amount of "unusually neighborly activity" following the attacks. Heiferman noticed there was a "yearning for community" and sought a way for strangers who had shared interests to be able to meet one another in person. Entering into a business partnership with Matt Meeker, Heiferman was able to receive funding from an angel investor and launch Meetup.com. The concept and website had immediate success.
  • After only 3 years, Meetup had 1 million users and after 10 years, they had 10 million users. These figures signal huge success for Meetup.com.

Packbots

  • Another example of a 9/11-inspired innovation is that of iRobot's Packbots. Packbots are "unmanned vehicles equipped with multiple cameras and sensors."
  • Though the packbots were in production in 2001, the robots were removed from the lab and taken to the site of the World Trade Center attacks to aid those working to rescue victims. The packbots were not only stronger than humans, but they could maneuver more easily. Additionally, the packbots' cameras and sensors were better than the human eye, proving to be efficient in seeing through the debris more clearly.
  • As a result of their use during search and rescue after 9/11, technological advances were made to the packbots, increasing their efficacy. They have since become more useful for both military operations and disaster relief efforts. Examples of their successful use following the attacks include the cleanup of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the reactor meltdown in Japan.

Apple iPod

  • Apple launched the first generation iPod at the end of 2001, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
  • The attacks did not directly lead to the invention of the iPod, but the public sentiment at the time was critical for its launch within a short time period. The general sentiment served as inspiration for the engineers, who worked around the clock, to create a product that has proven to be one of the most technologically-disruptive innovations of this century.
  • As the story goes, Steve Jobs wanted to launch a revolutionary music product before the end of 2001. Against all odds and traditional timelines, Jobs believed it could be done, attempting everything in his power to materialize the quick release of the iPod. According to Macworld, it was the 9/11 attacks that finally "galvanized the goals" for the team and led to the "persevering spirit" that helped them achieve the production and release of the iPod in time for the Christmas shopping season.
  • The example of the iPod demonstrates that it is not only by necessity or lack that an innovation emerges during global crises. The cultural climate and context is equally powerful, and at times breeds the inspiration and stamina to keep going during difficult historical moments.

Green Mountain Coffee

  • Green Mountain Coffee, the company that produces the Keurig single-cup coffee makers, began to grow at an enormous pace during the Great Recession, leading to innovative partnerships that created new products to be used with the coffeemakers.
  • During the recession, as Americans sought coffee shop-quality coffee at home in an effort to reduce spending, the result was greater demand for Keurig machines, which could provide good quality coffee.
  • The growth that Green Mountain Coffee experienced was unprecedented, with sales rising 65% in 2008 alone. The result of the rising growth and interest in Keurig machines for in-home use led to product expansion to include items such as iced tea in partnership with Celestial Seasonings. Furthermore, the company also experienced an increase in distribution to different kinds of retailers.
Sources
Sources

Quotes
  • "Her Jaw Elevation Device is a non-invasive device that keeps a patient's airway open when he or she is sedated. "I've been thinking about this forever," she said. "With the economy being the way it is, it's the perfect time for an entrepreneur.""
  • "Recognizing that people are trimming their budgets wherever possible, Bart Foster's Solo Health Inc. has launched kiosks that screen for eye disease and visual impairment."
  • "It launched in February 2008 in one Atlanta Wal-Mart. Now, he said, it's in 20 stores in the area and has serviced about 120,000 people in the past six months. Despite the recession, he said, his company has experienced growth."
Quotes
  • "Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc’s GMCR.O Keurig brewers, which have been posting recession-defying growth rates, are likely to double their share of the coffee brewer market in the United States next year, as single-cup brewing gains popularity. As coffee lovers seek faster and more convenient ways to get their daily dose of caffeine, they are increasingly turning to single-cup brewers, which offer some of the variety of brews available at a coffee shop at home."
Quotes
  • "The company has revamped its plastic storage containers, so that many can be used for serving a proper meal. "
  • ""Our products are functional and fashionable and we cater to the working, busy woman. Tupperware parties today aren't June Cleaver events, they're a girls night out.""
  • "Tupperware has spruced up its offerings so that they can be used in informal serving settings, not just relegated to the fridge."
  • "The waste-not-want-not mindset of other penny-pinching consumers also makes storing leftovers and keeping food fresher longer even more popular."
Quotes
  • "But was it a bad year for disruption? Quite the contrary. In 2001, Procter & Gamble launched Crest WhiteStrips, which quickly became a $200 million product. Apple launched the first version of its iPod. Pfizer Consumer Healthcare--now owned by Johnson & Johnson--rolled out its Pocket-Packs product. EnerNOC, whose disruptive demand-management services have expanded energy capacity without building a single new plant, was founded. All in all, our research identified at least a dozen specific disruptive developments in the U.S. alone."
Quotes
  • "The events of September 11, 2001, took place during the final stretch of the iPod’s development. As the attacks unfolded, an Apple team carrying key iPod prototypes from Taiwan landed on U.S. soil—just before the U.S. government shut down air travel nationwide. The iPod prototypes made it in time."
  • "The events of 9/11 galvanized the goals of the iPod project. Apple employees adopted an ethos common to the time: If they stopped performing their regular duties—if they stopped pouring their passions into products they loved to create—they were accepting defeat. Fadell says that the iPod group’s persevering spirit proved essential in preventing a delay that would have resulted in Apple missing the 2001 Christmas shopping season."
Quotes
  • "Since then the Packbots and a fleet of similar remote control and semi-autonomous drone robots have been advanced and polished, becoming ever more useful in both military, crime-fighting and disaster situations. "
  • "Then there’s Meetup, a young company that facilitates in-person group meetings centered on a common shared theme among people who usually meet online. Its founder Scott Heiferman just emailed his staff to relate how the whole idea sprang from the unusually neighborly activity he observed in New York after 9/11. 10 million users later, he notes “It’s a wonderful revolution in local community and “Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it weren’t for 9/11”."