Learning From Portmanteaus

Foodie Friday, and today we’ll start with a word that may be new to some of you: portmanteau. A portmanteau is a combination of the most recognizable parts of two words. We have many of them in the food world and use them to label a host of new things – utensils, dishes, even fruits. You probably use them all the time without knowing what they’re called.

Ever ordered a cheeseburger? Portmanteau – cheese and hamburger. Ever used a spork? A spoon and a fork. Cronuts, frappuccinos, Clamato, even Tex-Mex all qualify, as do pluots, tangelos, and turduckens. So stop petting your labradoodle (see what I did there?) and think about what those food creations can show us in the broader business sense.

Many of these things were evolutionary.  Adding cheese to a hamburger or putting some tines on a spoon (or was it enlarging and rounding the center of a fork?) was something I’d call part of a gradual change and more of an adaptation than an invention.  We do that a lot in business and it’s a smart way to address the ongoing needs of your current customer base.  The flip side of that is revolutionary change, something that’s entirely new and probably unexpected – the cronut falls into that category.  When we create revolutionary change we run the risk of alienating all of those who love what we’re doing but it’s probably the best way to attract a customer base that has ignored us thus far.  In my mind, great businesses do both types of change – evolutionary and revolutionary – because stasis isn’t an option and consumers are always looking for new and better.

Some food portmanteaus are just bad marketing.  The P’zone – a pizza calzone – is a freaking calzone and neither revolutionary nor evolutionary.  Tofurky (tofu and turkey)?  Really?  If you’re foregoing meat, why label a product as if it is the very thing the customer is avoiding?  That said, those things represent the notion that we constantly need to innovate.  The most successful companies often do nothing more than execute a new twist on an existing product or service better than their competitors.  It might be revolutionary, it might be evolutionary and it might be called a portmanteau.  I call it good business.  You?

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