Ignite Spotlight: An Interview with Campbell Soup Company’s Jeff George

By Jeremy Brown | Spigit
March 1, 2018

How does a 150 year old consumer packaged good company reinvent itself in an industry that’s seeing an influx of new disruptive startups emerging?

We had the opportunity to chat with Jeff George, VP, Americas R&D at Campbell Soup Company, who leads the company’s innovation program.

George, who will be speaking at Spigit’s upcoming Ignite conference on May 1st and 2nd in San Francisco, and his team have been doing a stellar job of turning their culture into one that makes the practice of innovation part of every employee’s daily activities.

In preparation for Ignite, we wanted to explore some of the lessons George has learned running Campbell’s innovation efforts as well as give you a sneak peek at what he’ll present on stage.

Below is our conversation.

Spigit: Are there any trends in innovation/technology you’re excited about exploring more in 2018?

Jeff: Absolutely. We’ve been really focused on a journey to deliver real food that matters for life’s moments over the last few years. Real food that matters for those moments is our company mission, and it has really resonated with our employees and our consumers.

But it’s kind of funny. The real food part of that sparked both a lot of passion and a lot of questions like: what does real food really mean? What are consumers looking for in real food? The authenticity of the food, and where it’s grown, and how it’s sourced and the presence of pesticides, and organics and artificials. All of these questions are central to what’s happening in the food industry right now.

So that’s been a huge focus area for us and we’re really interested to learn where consumers are going to take expectations in that area. I think it’s a huge consideration for us as it pertains to our current products, new products that we develop, and also our competitive set, which is really changing dramatically.

Spigit: What is the one thing you believe all enterprise innovation leaders need to know/ keep in mind as they build their innovation programs?

Jeff: We’re still pretty new to this. When I was at Ignite a year ago, we weren’t even Spigit clients yet. We were in the process of planning our program launch. One thing that has been a huge takeaway for me is the focus on building a culture of innovation.

And for us, it was really important to understand where we stood in terms of the maturity of our innovation culture. And then focus on developing a program and events that help build a sustainable one. It’s one thing to implement a crowdsourcing program, execute an event and a project – that’s fine. But to me, that’s not sustainable.

We’re interested in building something that’s going to shift the culture in a positive, more innovative and creative way that is sustainable and can really grow. We have made tremendous progress in that regard, over the last 12 months. But we still have a long way to go.

Spigit: Let’s dig into that a little bit more – the culture element. What are some of the things you did to start building a culture of innovation?

Jeff: We’re on the journey. I’m not ready to declare victory that we have a culture of innovation yet. But we’ve made some significant strides in the last year. It began when we conceived the idea to engage more of our employees in the innovation conversation. Historically, innovation had been done by a few people in the company. The vast majority of employees weren’t terribly engaged in the process.

There was a team that conceived the idea of doing employee crowdsourcing with the idea of culminating in a Shark Tank like event. We were especially encouraging of our younger employees to come forward with new ideas, not just product ideas, but new business models, new services, and new approaches to problems.

We partnered with Spigit to bring that to life. We found that when we executed the right communication plan, there was a huge pent up demand for our employees to participate with their ideas, support, builds, and passion to drive innovation at the company. We had hoped that there was this pent up demand for people to participate – it exceeded our expectations.

Spigit: You mentioned Shark Tank style events. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned through the course of building that part of the program and were there any hurdles or stumbling blocks you came across?

Jeff: Because this was new to us, there were a lot of folks that were less convinced that our employees were really going to engage. They were unconvinced that there really was the quality of thinking at all levels and all regions and all functions in the company. And so we had to overcome a lot of resistance to be able to move forward.

We treated it as a pilot. But the other thing we did, was deciding to go really big. Looking back I’m actually really glad we did it. We have 6,000 salaried employees. We took the go big or go home approach. We went out to everyone on our first event. High risk, high reward. By doing that, it really energized and engaged the organization in a big way. If we’d have done it in a smaller way, like a test, people might have taken a more wait and see attitude.

Because we were clearly all in from the beginning, people really bought in. As a result, we got really high participation, really high engagement, and generated a lot of excitement as well.

Spigit: What are you looking forward to at this year’s Ignite?

Jeff: Well, this year is going be a lot different. Last year was really helpful because we weren’t a client yet. We were pretty sure we were going to move forward with this, but it was a great way to get some insight from other companies as to whether they were getting value.

This year, now that we have our own experiences, I’m looking forward not only to sharing our experiences but really listening in a different way to the experiences other companies have had.

I really want to get some learnings around best practices. One question I have is how you can sustain efforts and grow.

And then the second thing that we’re about to do is start an external- facing challenge– not just employees but also reaching out to non-employees to help us with new business opportunities and to solve some of our biggest problems. I’d love to get some insight from other companies that have worked in the external-facing space to see how they do that.

Last year was helpful. But this year, it’s going to be a deeper level of insight for me now that we’re actually doing it.

Spigit: Can you share a little bit about what you plan on talking about Ignite?

Jeff: One thing I’ll talk a little bit about is the journey that Campbell’s is on relative to our strategy and focus on innovation, both through growth in our current businesses and acquisitions. I’ll speak a little bit about how all that fits together to deliver against our mission of being a leading health and well-being company and delivering real food that matters for life’s moments.

I’ll share how the employee crowdsourcing Spigit partnership has delivered against that strategy. Specifically, I’ll highlight the learnings that we’ve had from launching our program this year, the things that worked well, and the things that we would do differently next time.

To finish, I’ll talk about our next phase of the journey – the sustainability and expansion of our employee facing program plus expanding to external facing challenges. I hope what people get from my presentation is how a 150 year old company is thinking about the future, about reinventing, and driving consumer relevant growth, and how Spigit is helping us do that.

Don’t Miss Ignite 2018

Ignite is the premier conference for innovation leaders around the world. It’s a two-day experience that brings together a growing community of innovation practitioners to share real-world case studies, proven strategies for growth and transformation, and a lot more.

As Damion Heredia, IBM’s VP of Watson Strategic Partnerships, put it: “What’s exciting about this event is the captive audience of innovators in one room that are all working toward a common goal [of how] to scale their innovations faster.”

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