There are two primary reasons driving Maximilian Riedel's obsession with innovation, which has led to some 300 new items in the past three years alone for the Austrian-based glassware company.
One reason that Riedel is obsessed with innovation is that the fine wine market is flat and consumption is declining. That's bad news when you're the current CEO, as Riedel is, of a twelve-generations-old company that is best known for designing wine glasses that are meant to enhance the aromas and experience of different types of wines. If there was ever a time for innovation in this space, it's now.
The second reason that Riedel is obsessed with innovation is old-fashioned father-son competition. "My father thinks that every day is going to be the last day of his life," he told me. "I simply cannot allow that a retired man is more creative than me."
Riedel is joking, of course, but it's undeniably true that the wine market - and the appetite of consumers and fine dining restaurants for luxury stemware - has changed dramatically in the past ten to fifteen years. That change is influenced by monumental shifts in how Americans equip their homes and kitchens (hello, IKEA, Amazon and the internet) as well as the surge more recently of the popularity of recreational beverage alternatives such as marijuana and brown spirits like whiskey, rum and bourbon.
Which brings us to the ice cube, which is the basis for Riedel's latest and most significant new development: a line of glasses tailored to cocktails, that's designed around the primary ingredient of every mixed drink, namely, the ice cube.
Riedel brought their line of five new shapes and sizes of cocktail glasses to market in just twelve months. Those five glasses, with the common denominator ingredient of an ice cube, scale up to thousands of mixed drink possibilities. Riedel also hired a mixologist in every major market to speak the language of cocktails on behalf of the company.
"It's opened many new doors, and we're speaking to people we never had a chance to talk to," Riedel said.
The Biggest Irony of Innovation
Along the way, Riedel's encountered a major irony of the innovator: When you're trying to do something new in your industry, you end up being a kind of ambassador for the general concept of the innovation, sometimes even more than you're a spokesperson for your company's own product or service.
I see it happening with Enolytics, my own startup, as we work to bring the tools of big data and analytics to the wine industry: certainly we have our own services we're marketing but, often, I find myself advocating for the power of data more generally speaking. The more awareness we can bring to the idea of data analytics, and the more we demonstrate proofs of concept for the wine industry, then the more likely our potential clients are to relate those applications to their own business.
A similar thing happens with Riedel and glassware. Faced with a need to innovate, caused by the flat-lining of fine wine consumption, Riedel brings awareness to the idea of glassware designed specifically for cocktail consumption; in itself that's an extension of the long-held company tenet that glassware can be designed beneficially for the consumption of specific styles of wine.
It's an idea that works for wine; that's the general concept. Why shouldn't it also work, more specifically, for spirits?
Consider this principle for your own business: what is the "bigger picture" concept that you could benefit from educating around?
Meeting Customers Where They Are
Riedel's customers used to be consumers who drink wine at home. Now those consumers drink wine more often at bars and restaurants, and they have more choices (including marijuana and brown spirits) that can steer them away from selecting wine as their recreational beverage of choice.
That means shifting the focus of where to "meet" consumers. More and more, that opportunity is happening around spirits.
Seizing that opportunity takes education, however. So Riedel leads a three-day training session for restaurant workers at different locations around the world. The workers are trained on all the different glasses that the company makes, from water, beer and wine to Coca Cola and, most recently, spirits.
The training, and Riedel's ever-expanding portfolio of glassware innovation, opens the playing field for restaurant and bar staff to seize the opportunity of meeting consumers where they are.
In your own business, look for ways to expand the conversation, especially if that involves broadening the scope of potential consumers of your product or service.