With two young daughters of his own, Neil Grimmer, co-founder and chief innovation officer at The Nest Collective, saw the importance of healthy food for children even before starting his own food company.
One in three children in America is overweight or obese; children are getting diabetes at younger ages; and their life expectancy is predicted to be shorter than their parents’ life expectancy, Grimmer says.
Those startling statistics inspired Grimmer and his business partner Sheryl O’Loughlin to establish The Nest Collective in 2007, and to center the business around two important philosophies: “kids, and specifically little kids, are under-taken care of as it comes to nutrition and the food that’s out there and available to them,” says Grimmer, and “business can actually be a force for social change.”
An alum of IDEO, Grimmer had plenty of experience designing brands from scratch and building them out. But after partnering with VC firm Catamount Ventures, he and O’Loughlin realized an opportunity to take on existing brands and reinvent them, stripping away the elements that didn’t work while leveraging the ones that did.
First to join “The Nest” was Revolution Foods, a fast-growing upstart that was created to bring fresh, healthy foods to students. The co-founders still run the foodservice side of the business, delivering healthy meals to schools, while The Nest Collective brings the products to retailers nationwide. Revolution’s brand values have remained the same since coming under The Nest Collective’s umbrella, but the brand’s look and product line hasn’t.
“We created a modern, fresh, kid-fun look for the brand and focused the product line on solving the lunchbox dilemma for parents and kids through a user-centered design approach,” Grimmer says.
The Nest Collective revealed a progressive packaging format in 2008 when it introduced Revolution Foods’ Mashups Squeezable Fruit in a pouch. Unlike traditional plastic cups or glass jars used to package kid’s foods, which are processed under high temperatures for lengthy periods of time, the BPA-free pouch allows for quicker, gentler cooking that maintains the product’s freshness and flavor.
When The Nest Collective acquired its second brand, Plum Organics, in January 2009, Grimmer put the pouch concept into place again, but for an even younger audience: babies and toddlers.
“Plum is a beautiful brand with a phenomenal reputation in the marketplace,” Grimmer says.
By evolving that brand story, Grimmer and his team were able to insert a fresh and modern eating experience into the marketplace, with packaging designed to be user friendly. The pouch format lets parents feed their children with one hand, or easily dispense the food onto a spoon. Yet, even after launching the concept, the team was still asking, “How can we make the spoon-feeding process even better?”
“I literally took a plastic spoon, snipped off the handle and taped it onto the end of our pouch,” Grimmer explains. “I dispensed it and we were like, ‘this is it.’”
To bring the concept to fruition, Grimmer partnered with baby product designer and manufacturer, Boon Inc. The result was a custom-fit spoon that connects to The Nest Collective’s spouted pouches, dispensing product in a one-handed feeding effort. The spoons are sold separately from the pouches, but are merchandized next to them.
Grimmer reports strong results already, since their launch last month. Grimmer says his ability to drive such innovations comes from earlier experiences. “The most significant transformative experience, being a creative, was having the opportunity to work at IDEO,” he says.
It was there that he learned the IDEO methodology, which is human-centered design. Grimmer started out at IDEO as a designer and moved up to program manager. Being a “nutrition nut,” he always took particular interest in the food and beverage projects.
“When it comes to food, it’s a lot of emotional things; it’s a lot of social things,” Grimmer says, “so the human-centered, user-centered design process as it relates to food is really well-suited.”
While at IDEO, Grimmer worked on projects for PepsiCo, McDonald’s and even Mercedes Benz. And when it came time for him to move on, he took his learnings with him to Clif Bar & Co. There, he worked as the vice president of strategy and innovation, leading a small internal design group. While at Clif Bar, Grimmer met his future business partner, then-CEO of Clif Bar, Sheryl O’Loughlin. They took their collective experiences and moved to create their own company, The Nest Collective, aimed at “nourishing the organic generation from the high chair to the lunch box.”
“Through our experience at Clif Bar, we really saw that, when you marry the power of business with the power of nurturing or caring about things beyond just the bottom line, amazing things can happen,” Grimmer says.
One of the amazing, and often uncommon, things Grimmer was able to do when starting the company was integrate design into its DNA. When the company first launched, it not only had a designer on staff, but also, in Grimmer, a chief innovation officer. By taking a holistic view of design and innovation, Grimmer says, The Nest Collective is able to work easily and efficiently across its design and operations teams.
“In some bigger companies, you see a classic tension between innovation and operations,” he explains. “Operations is all about work flow, smooth running, non disruptive processes. Innovation by its very nature is very disruptive, internally and hopefully externally. One of the things that comes from that tension is that great ideas never make it to the marketplace because they have internal struggles before they even have the opportunity to be presented to consumers.”
By ensuring every employee is innovation-centric, The Nest Collective can avoid these struggles, and launch new ideas faster than usual. Whether that be revolutionary ideas like Mashups pouches or top-secret ones like the Plum Organics packaging innovation set to launch this August, if it’s coming from Grimmer and his team, it’s bound to be ground breaking. BP
NAME: Neil Grimmer
TITLE: co-founder and chief innovation officer, The Nest Collective
TITLE: co-founder and chief innovation officer, The Nest Collective
YEARS IN CURRENT JOB: 3 BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED? “There’s always a better way.” That’s a [saying] that we use here at Nest to actually talk about innovation. It’s actually a mindset in the lens of which we look at the world.
WHAT BRANDS DO YOU ADMIRE? Boon Inc. I just love their design. I love their style. I love their sensibility, and they’re awesome people.
WHAT’S ON YOUR NIGHTSTAND? Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Seuss. I am a dad of two little girls and so needless to say, part of our ritual is a bedtime story.
SPECIAL THANKS… “I’m a firm believer that any great product innovation has a team that’s really made it possible. That goes for our internal team, but also our great partners at Boon.” -Neil Grimmer
THE NEST COLLECTIVE: Sheryl O’Loughlin, co-founder, president and CEO Rachel Loyd, design director Molly Michet, internal R&D Kory Johnston, operations manager Bentley Hall, director of finance
BOON INC: Rebecca Finell, design principal Ryan Fernandez, CEO Kevin Clisham, vp sales and marketing