Hanging with the Lunch Ladies: Tapping Back-of-House Ethnography to Develop Insights & Innovation

In 2019, Cargill and 20|20 Research launched an initiative that tapped internal, cross-functional teams to observe and report on critical behaviors when and where they occurred within the complex, back-of-house K–12 channel. Team members from Cargill represented sales, category and business managers, marketing, consumer insights, R&D, and food scientists.  We engaged the team to gain buy-in for the initiative and set up the company’s brands for success in creating the right products, with the right packaging, and the right messaging that deliver on the needs of foodservice directors and operating staff.

Shadowing customers in situ with ethnographies facilitated by 20|20 allowed the Cargill team to witness practices as they naturally unfolded, revealing subtle and subconscious nuances that led to meaningful insights. Unexpected learning led to major internal changes in product development, production, packaging; and several new products rooted in this research are now in development. Here are three examples of critical learning:

  1. Food hold times were four times longer than what was assumed at the product development and testing level.
  2. Pack quantities should be adjusted to fit universally-used, standard size equipment in back-of-house operations.
  3. User-friendly, easy-open packaging can reclaim staff for more pressing operational needs; some districts have workers whose sole job is to help kids get food out of packaging!

Insights discovered in this research directly led to innovative, targeted solutions solving for the critical challenge of kids’ participation in school breakfast and lunch for better learning. Additionally, the 20|20-facilitated research directly fueled much more integrated solutions, upending the way that Cargill has historically thought about their brand.

Want this type of business-changing insights for your team? Contact Kathy Doyle to learn more.