Advancing entrepreneurship and innovations in Aalto University

What if... the pandemic is an acid test of our creativity?

Product development is a team sport, requiring creative collaboration efforts between entrepreneurs and their stakeholders. As the covid-19 pandemic continues to stir the marketplace and ways of working, rapidly created novel and rebranded products, sales channels and market positioning are emerging in response to the ongoing crisis.
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In our multidisciplinary Aalto Design Factory research project DesignBites we’ve investigated the needs and practices of experimentation and design work in food and beverage startups and SMEs amidst their internationalization efforts. The following examples highlight new solutions that we’ve seen happening, illustrating some of the ways entrepreneurs have been joining forces to rise to the challenge.

Timely changes to product development and rebranding

Whether forced by the circumstances or creatively pivoting to cater to the situation, newly rebranded products and even radical production alterations have taken place. One of the earliest examples of quick reactions came from Espoon Oma Panimo brewery, which turned their 8000 bottles of beer meant for restaurants and summer festivals, into a Poikkeustila (State of Emergency) branded beer and avoided being stuck with surplus inventory of unsold products. 

In addition to single products, bundling products into special packages tailored for online orders have appeared. The chocolate company Chjoko came out with their ‘Karanteenibox’ (“Quarantine box”) and Kakola Brewing Company has been selling their own ‘Sissikassi’ survival bags, consisting of a selection of their different beers. 

Some changes in products have gone down to the entire production process. Shifting the production to hand sanitizers and disinfectants has been a global trend, especially amongst beverage companies and distilleries. 

New sales and distribution channels

Social distancing rules and regulations have temporarily changed the way we visit stores, cafes and restaurants. To keep up with the times, companies have changed the way customers can purchase and pick up ordered products. 

Otaniemi-based Fat Lizard brewery communicated clear directions of how customers can pre-order products online and pick up the pre-packed boxes from a ‘kiosk’ at their facilities, without stepping a foot indoors. Overall, setting up an online store or even receiving orders through Instagram’s direct messages have been some of the most popular tactics to combat declining sales. 

Joining forces

Safety comes in numbers even in the age of social distancing. Entrepreneurs have made an effort to market and provide visibility to other small companies’ products and shed light into the harshness of the situation overall for the whole community of small players. They’ve also taken action to collaborate action beyond words. For example, building on a collective of small actors, Kaffa Roastery’s initiative Tue Pientuottajaa, has developed a platform that makes the smaller companies in need of support more visible and provides a direct channel for customers to purchase their products online. 

On a smaller scale, companies have also teamed up with each other. Palms & Berries, a company producing and distributing frozen acai berry packs, surprised their customers with a special treat of smuggling sunflower sprouts from Pinoa within their weekly delivery, which according to numerous instagram story regrams, had been well received and appreciated by their customers. 

The craft brewing community has also shown its team spirit once again. Efforts have ranged from ‘Battle of the Brewers’, virtual brewing challenges, in which different companies battle against each other in an user friendly interactive format, to selling each other’s products across taprooms in Finland. There also have been industry wide talks to push the Finnish legislation to allow online sales of beers, in order to ease the situation’s effect on the craft scene.

Virtual experiences

Instead of the regular face to face interaction, companies have had to adjust to the quarantine by launching modifications of their services in an online format. One of the first ones to react were the craft breweries such as Ruosniemen Panimo and Moose On The Loose Brewing Co., who started organizing virtual brewery tours and interactive tasting sessions. These events operated through the Instagram and Facebook live platforms.  

In a bigger picture, as the bars, restaurants and clubs were forced to close for business, there is an acute vacancy for social encounters. This gap was seized by a creative agency Bob The Robot, which quickly pulled together a digital bar, an online hangout open for all users. Initially launched as an in-house platform, there are now plans to expand the service to include a pub, a nightclub, a daytime cafe, a meeting room and even a karaoke bar.

Also, as life now revolves around the one’s house, there is an opening for novelties and leisure time activities at home. Many companies are providing tips and recipes based on their merchandise, but some are linking their product even tighter to the service aspect. Good Guys Kombucha have set up online kombucha brewing sessions, instructing the users in a cooking course style.

These examples show that trying times can also result in creative solutions, transforming how we operate during a crisis – and perhaps, in the aftermath as well. We hope these efforts can serve as an inspiration point for re-examining your own habits and field as well!

Maria Mikkonen, Aalto Design Factory

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