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Join the dots to create new products

By Roopen Roy Jan 29 2013

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Often, by joining the dots, you can create a sweet spot or produce a un­ique product. I have always wondered why the British, who ruled over India, never made extensive use of Indian spices to pepper their dishes. Spices and oriental herbs never entered the mainstream Br­itish cuisine. The Fr­ench, who are dismissive of the British cuisine, derisively say that the folks across the English channel kill the lamb twice — first, when they slaughter it and, second, when they cook it.

Even when the sun ne­ver set on The Empire, Br­itish cuisine was never world-renowned. Well, you could say that the mulligatawny soup was a clever use of spices, but it really was never mainstream Br­itish. The name itself is derived from two Tamil words — millagu meaning pepper and thanni meaning water. It was almost certainly concocted in some place like the Madras Club, and not in the kitchen of the Windsor Castle.

The chicken tikka ma­sala is part of the Empire striking-back story. Immigrants from India to the United Kingdom would have modified the sub-continental dish to suit the British palate. Former foreign secretary of the UK, Robin Cook, proudly cl­aimed it as “a true, British national dish.” By joining the dots of the Indian cuisine and British taste, it became the country’s most popular dish, straddling across the diverse landscape of differently sensitive taste buds.

The famous Balti cuisine is not from Baltistan in Kashmir, as some claim. It clearly is from Bengal. In the days gone by, it was customary in Bengali feasts to serve food from brass buckets or baltis. Th Bangladeshi immigrants —mostly from the district of Sylhet –created this unique fusion food in Birmingham. It instantly appealed to the heavy drinking working class population. Their numb ta­ste buds, after hours in the pub, were livened up by the fiery balti cuisine that offered inexpensive but stomach filling fare.

The mulligatawny soup, the chicken tikka masala and the balti cuisine are all great examples of creating a new segment of uncontested market space that the management guru Chan Kim would characterise as “a blue ocean.”

His typical example of a “blue ocean” is Cirque du Soleil which is a classic portrayal of joining the dots. A onetime accordion player, stilt walker and fire-eater, Guy Laliberté founded one of Canada’s largest cultural exports, Cirque du Soleil in 1984. Cirque has staged dozens of productions vi­ewed by up to 40 million people in 90 cities around the world. In the 20 years, Cirque has achieved revenues that Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey — the world’s leading circus companies — took more than a century to attain. They joined the dots by combining the skills of the circus with the aplomb and panache of showbiz on the Broadway in a novel format.

Last week, I was delighted to receive a box of chocolates from the Spices Board of India. The chocolates were of six varieties, each one infused with a different spice. The six Indian spices were cinnamon, cu­min, cardamom, mace, ch­illy and cloves. They were delicious. The flavour and taste of spices enhanced and differentiated the milk chocolates.

Using spices to create unique chocolate bars or chocolate drinks is not new. I went to a chocolate factory in Fremont, Seattle, called Theo. I took a tour of their manufacturing facilities. They have a range of unique chocolate bars with different ingredients. But, the one product which is unique is a dark chocolate bar with the “ghost chilly.”

Chilly is not native to India, it came from the New World. But, owing to mutation and weather/soil conditions, the hottest chilly in the world is the one that is produced in Assam and Nagaland called the Naga bhoot jolokia (ghost chilly). In 2007, Guinness World Records certified the bhoot jolokia as the world’s hottest chilli pepper. Just imagine, a company in Seattle is mixing ghost chillies and cocoa beans to rustle up a unique product category.

Another example of pr­oduct innovation by joining the dots is Gillette, which is famous for its shaving pr­oducts, bought Duracell, a producer of battery cells in 1996. One of their best selling products is appropriately called the Fusion series. Gillette Fusion Power is a motorised version which is battery powered and emits “micropulses” that apparently increase razor glide for a smoother shave. Both Gillette and Duracell are part of the Proctor & Gamble (P&G) stable. Oral-B was acquired by P&G in 2006. They have launched battery-powered electrical toothbrushes wh­ich have created a new product category.

The famous bison grass vodka or Zubrówka from Poland is another fine example of joining the dots. It is an Eastern European variety of dry, herb-flavoured vodka that is distilled from rye. Its flavour is unique. The distillate is flavoured with a tincture of bison grass, which also gives the spirit its yellowish colour. This grass grows only in the Białowieża forest which is partly in Poland and partly in Belarus. A few blades of the bison grass is traditionally placed in each bottle of Żubrówka which imparts it a unique flavour and aroma. Let us say Na zdrowie (cheers in the Polish) to that.
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