What can we all learn from the Pillsbury Bake-Off?

November 13, 2013

How does Pillsbury keep a 45 year-old competition relevant?

First, let me add my congratulations to the winner of the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, Glori Spriggs of Henderson, Nevada, for taking home the grand prize of $1,000,000 for her “Loaded Potato Pinwheels” Recipe.

And no, I wasn’t stealing the bigger than life gold statue replica of the Pillsbury Dough Boy Award for the winners…I was just moving it to a location with more light!

What is so interesting about this year’s competition was that there were more side dishes, family meals and breakfast entries than there were pies and cakes. Not what you would typically expect from what is probably the oldest, biggest, most well-known and most respected recipe contest that was started by a company that sold flour in bags and who’s portfolio now even includes a refrigerated gluten-free thin crust pizza dough! 

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from a contest of this size. Obvious is how a company is razor focused on making the contest relevant – even after 45 competitions. This year, in it’s 46th competition the Bake-Off  included a social media component where shoppers voted for their favorites and culled the recipes down to their most favorite 100; which then came to life this past Monday in Las Vegas as 100 cooks competed simultaneously to produce their recipes for tasting and judging…and the chance to win a cool million. The other was to limit ingredients to seven, and cooking time to 30 minutes to mirror the way so many working families actually prepare their meals. I had the honor this year to be one of the judges (who are not paid, but do have their travel and hotel supplied by Pillsbury).

What struck me was how the winning recipe took a fledgling category (potatoes) and gave it a more contemporary taste and preparation twist; a lesson for the industry in how solutions may be right in front of our taste buds…and all we have to do is take a bite. This is a recipe that every food retailer should offer in its fresh produce and refrigerated and frozen potato sections to turnaround sales.

And how the winner of the GE Imagination At Work Award, Kellie White of Missouri, solved one of my own problems caused by living in Southern California – the lack of a good NY bagel. She took Pillsbury’s refrigerated classic pizza crust (something I nor the other culinary judges said we had never even thought of) shaped the dough crust into bagel, then dipped them into a recipe of boiling water and honey for a minute, then brushed with a water and egg white mixture and then baked. Newark’s own Watson’s bagels would be envious.

There are another 98 lessons to be learned from the 100 finalists, but the biggest lesson of all is that we must be never-ending in our quest to observe and learn how people really eat.