Mont Blanc Gourmet

A Jolt of Ideas

This has been approved by the client for public disclosure.

First, A Little Context

The coffee industry has certainly seen tremendous innovation and growth during the past two decades. Largely driven by Starbucks, of course, we now find ourselves spending more money and enjoying more exquisite tastes.

But the industry is concerned about the current pace of innovation. Challenges include:

Sure, there has been substantial growth and innovation during the past two decades. But what is in the innovation pipeline today? What will drive growth tomorrow?

The 100+ year-old supply chain for coffee has a fragile source: the small farmers, most of whom live in the poorest places on Earth, trying to serve distant customers with a lack of information. (This sounds simplistic. The complexities are greater and more difficult than I will describe here.) What can we do to repair this plight of the farmer? I have never seen another industry so concerned with — and so determined to solve — an ethical challenge.

Creativity and continued innovation are critical to the continued growth and success of the coffee industries, its farmers, equipment suppliers, roasters and retailers.


So what happened?

Mont Blanc Gourmet, twice ranked among the top 75 of Inc.’s list of “America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies,” wanted to reinforce their brand message that they are more than a source of chocolate in your mocha (and more), they are a innovation laboratory for their customers. They are a creative resource for innovation of product, service and experience.

At the 2011 Event in Houston, the 23rd annual exposition of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, Mont Blanc invited 50 of their favorite customers and prospective customers to a breakfast workshop on creativity. I led the group through a condensed version of my university course on Personal Creativity and Innovation. It was fun — and one important customer said, “This workshop makes this entire trip to Houston worthwhile.”

But wait. There’s more.

At the end of the workshop, the Mont Blanc folks registered interested participants for 30-minute creative consultation sessions at their trade show booth. For the rest of the day, a steady stream of coffee entrepreneurs and executives visited the booth. As each would sit down, I’d ask — in one way or another — for the most perplexing challenge, whether it be about growth or truly existential.

Some raised questions about ownership and control, some about coffee shop design, some about product and operations. Of course, all of them know the coffee business better than I do, so all I could do was ask questions to try to help.

This was the most beautiful part: at the end of various sessions, participants reported that their original plans were helpfully confirmed and tactically clearer. Some left with completely new ideas.

This was the other most beautiful part: for me, of course, this was a blast. I helped dozens of new friends.


So what?

Here’s what:

Your customers look to you for more than beans (or widgets). They want you to help them solve their challenges and achieve their opportunities.

Creativity training and direct questions can help your customers come to the best answers.

We can gather your customers, train them in creative exploration, and ask them the questions they need to answer for their own businesses and lives. Along the way, we can warmly encourage them.


That’s what I do. I am here for you.

Illustration credit: The invitiation to the workshop was designed by Cohn Marketing in Denver.