04 Oct 2012 US: How Kraft created a market with a squeeze bottle
The grocery business is brutal: Nine of every 10 new products never amount to anything, according to market research. So when a Kraft Foods employee pitched the idea of a concentrated liquid version of powdered drink mixes, the bosses would have been justified in taking a pass.
Instead, they drafted a duo of product developers to create a pocket-portable dispenser to better its chances. In March 2011, their hip little squeeze bottle made its debut as Mio, which roughly translates to “mine” in Italian. The launch was Kraft’s biggest in more than a decade. Within a year, sales hit $100 million.
Mio also helped establish a new product category, an adjunct to Kraft’s Kool-Aid and Crystal Light, which dominate the $1 billion-a-year powdered beverage business.
The notion for Mio came out of Kraft’s 2010 Innovation Days, an annual science fair-type expo where employees bring their product ideas to management. From there it went to Shelley Markoulis and Gary Albaum of the beverage research, development and quality team to produce package prototypes for consumer testing.
Markoulis, 51, is a senior group leader who has worked at the Northfield-based company for 22 years. Albaum, 41, is a senior associate principal engineer; he’s on his second tour of duty at Kraft after a four-year stretch at Clairol, now owned by Procter & Gamble. Their aim was to fashion a container that would be easy to carry, open, dispense its flavoured content and reclose. They also wanted the device to be intuitive.
“People said, ‘I don’t want to have to learn how to use this,’ ” Albaum says. “They just wanted it to work.”
To stand out on store shelves, Mio’s bottle also had to reinforce the idea of a liquid concentrate in a cool way. “We were really challenged to make it look like a drink,” Markoulis says. Above all, the bottles had to be spillproof to prevent messy leaks in a pocket or purse. “People said, ‘There’s no way I will carry this if it’s not secure,’ ” she says.
With help from an outside design team, some 18 R&D colleagues built and tested an array of shapes. They finally decided on a water-drop-shaped, flip-top bottle that could survive bumps and falls during shipping and three pounds of pressure without leaking.
Reaching $100 million in first-year sales is an achievement, even for a packaged-foods giant like Kraft. Just one in 200 new products soared that high over the past decade, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a market researcher in Chicago.
Packaging “can make a huge difference” in a consumer product’s fate, says John Sicher, editor and publisher of beverage trade newsletter Beverage Digest, “One need only recall the multidecade impact of Coke’s contour bottle.”
Years from now that may be true of Mio’s shapely bottle, too.