Innovation.

It’s a strong word. A powerful word.

And it’s an intimidating word.

In the CPG world, if you’re not innovating, you’re not growing. And if you’re not growing, then you’re running a high risk of becoming irrelevant, or worse—going the way of the dodo, and becoming extinct.

But to be constantly innovative can be exhausting for all involved, and for some brands, is next to impossible. There is hope, though. And that hope, in a word, is collaboration.

According to a Nielsen Consumer Packaged Goods Innovation report, “two in three consumer product professionals rank collaboration among the top three most critical factors for innovation success, outpacing strong leadership and access to financial resources.” (Sadly, 74 percent of respondents in that report said they don’t think their company is collaborating effectively.)

And a recent article on SmartBrief noted that CPG brands are using brand recognition to capitalize on collaborations: “The presence of co-branded food product offerings exploded in 2019 across a wide variety of categories. These items from legacy food brands allow companies to enter new food and beverage categories without the need to establish an entirely new brand or product.”

There are myriad benefits to collaborating. Simply bringing fresh eyes to a product can often result in new avenues or outlets to try. Shared risk is an added bonus. And then, of course, there’s the novelty alone of collaborations. Pair that with how collaborative products are heavily targeted toward trends, and, well, consumers-going-bananas-mayhem can (hopefully?) ensue.  

Recently it has felt like collaborations have been coming out fast and furious in the CPG arena, and hitting on some major trends. And I’m here for it. Let’s take a look at some of the more intriguing collaborative products that have rolled out recently.

When giants meet

There are Twinkies. And there is cereal. And now, there is Twinkies Cereal.

Consumers damn near lost their minds last fall when Twinkies Cereal debuted. The cereal, a collaboration between Hostess and cereal giant Post, made a splash from the word Go, and for weeks after its debut, Twinkies were on the tip of everyone’s tongue (and on a few cereal spoons as well).

General Mills also got the collaboration memo and launched cereals with Hershey’s Kisses and Jolly Ranchers for two new cereals that sound like they could potentially give your sweet tooth a sweet tooth.

Personal feelings aside (full disclosure: I enjoy a good Twinkie every once in a while, and I would totally try that Hershey’s Kisses cereal), when you pair two big names in CPG, magic happens in the form of new product innovation. Two well-established brands launching a new product together often brings about a lot of press. They also can bring double the amount of consumer exposure (to candy lovers who may not eat cereal, for example, and vice versa), and novel (if sometimes temporary or limited edition) products to store shelves and top of mind for consumers.

Going outside the CPG box

More often than not, collaborations in CPG involve two CPG products, though there are some recent examples that pair a beloved CPG product with a non-CPG product, much to consumer delight.

First, there’s Instant Pot and Tyson Foods. Banking on the popularity of the multi-cooker, Tyson paired up with the ‘Pot to launch Instant Pot meal kits that include everything a consumer needs to get a meal on the table in 20 minutes. (But does that include the time it takes to come to pressure? Inquiring Instant Pot minds want to know!)

Then, there’s the recent Netflix and Ben & Jerry’s pairing, with the debut of the ice cream royalty’s Netflix & Chill’d flavor. The brand touts the new collaboration as, “There’s something for everyone to watch on Netflix and flavors for everyone to enjoy from Ben & Jerry’s, so we’ve teamed up to bring you a chillaxing new creation…”

Stepping outside of the confines of the food and beverage boxes is a smart play if for no other reason than Tyson and Ben & Jerry’s have aligned themselves with two trends that have shown some staying power. (And they themselves are obviously well established and strong brands, which adds even more leverage.) (Also, let’s face it—peanut butter ice cream with pretzel and brownie pieces sounds delightful. And very much like something you can envision sitting on your couch with while you watch The Irishman.) But also, like the SmartBrief article mentioned, it’s a less-risky dip into other waters for both partners—through the collaboration Instant Pot can get into the actual food market (rather than just the making-the-food market), they don’t have to go all-in on venturing into a new product category. Netflix probably isn’t going to release their own line of movie snacks (though perhaps that’s not a bad idea) (Netflix, call me. We’ll talk.), but collaborating with Ben & Jerry’s gets their name into an area where they otherwise wouldn’t be. (“Honey, don’t forget to pick up some Netflix while you’re at the grocery store!”)

As the new year is just getting started, I think we’ve only seen a small sliver of the collaborations, and more are still to come. I, for one, am really looking forward to what CPG will bring forth when forces combine this year. 

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