It would be understandable if some companies viewed today’s economy as an excuse to shrink back and simply stay afloat. And it’s no surprise that others are trimming the fat everywhere. But then there are the optimists; the companies that, for better or worse, committed to projects before the downturn, and plan to see them through. These companies promise to continue to innovate throughout the recession and, one can hope, will reap the rewards on the other side.
At the grand opening of its 120,000-square-foot R&D center last month, Sara Lee Corp., Downers Grove, Ill., certainly appeared to be in the latter category.
Chairman and CEO Brenda Barnes led a dedication ceremony and a tour of the impressive, multi-million dollar project. Afterward, Sara Lee execs stayed around to meet media and discuss the new center.
While quick to point out that the company’s R&D department already was doing a great job, Barnes added that the new center (three years in construction) will help improve Sara Lee’s new product speed-to-market.
For the first time, all R&D will take place under the same roof with more than 100 chefs, scientists, engineers and packaging designers on-site. Amenities helping to streamline the process include fully-equipped test kitchens; packaging, meat and product performance labs; and bakery and USDA-certified meat pilot plants.
Barnes and Philippe Schaillee, vice president, marketing, strategy and research and development, said Sara Lee will continue to focus on its core platforms in the coming years, but will explore platform innovations within these categories. Researchers will concentrate on delivering what consumers want as their ideas of value change, Schaillee says. Sara Lee executives compared The Kitchens of Sara Lee, the name of the center, to building blocks that will help to strengthen the foundation of its product development process.
Schaillee noted the saying “companies who invest in new technology during a recession are the ones that come out on top.” Barnes added that the company already is growing its market share in each of its core categories, including lunch meats and frozen breakfasts.
“Now, with the The Kitchens of Sara Lee, we are fully equipped to turn consumer insights into products that differentiate us in the marketplace,” Barnes said.
A recession and reduction in consumer spending might not be what Sara Lee had in mind when it began the project three years ago, but the company, with slightly more retail sales than foodservice, does not appear to have let that dampen its spirits.