Seoul Food: Cross-Cultural Design Sprints

The challenge - 1 sweet week

When Baskin Robbins Korea approached us about adding to their (delicious) product pipeline for 2017/2018, they brought along certain assumptions. They believed their consumers saw Baskin Robbins as a western brand. They wanted to explore having similar items to all the newest, coolest dessert shops that were the social media flavor of the day.  And, they wanted to go from insight to in-store at breakneck pace. 

Talking to Consumers

Sometimes a cultural gap can give you the fresh eyes you need to tackle innovation challenges. The Skyscraper Team took our eyes to Seoul to do just that.

Our research methodology design with consumers, food bloggers, dessert shop owners and trend tours revealed that Baskin Robbins was, in fact, a heritage brand for South Korean ice cream lovers. Baskin Robbins first introduced ice cream to the country in 1985. And although it may have once been seen as an exotic foreign treat, today's adults associate it with fond childhood family memories. Like drinking banana milk and eating yul-lan chestnut cookies, Baskin Robbins was another part of their upbringing.

the core job to be done: feel like a kid again!

We encountered an explosion of trends-driven (and trend-driving) street foods in Seoul. Teens unwound on the weekends by heading out to local street carts with their friends. And traditional favorites like the red bean filled fish-shaped buns called Bungeoppang were re-imagined as soft-serve cones by local vendors. Social connection, convenience, and casual fun were at the heart of the street food experience.

We also noticed that the cafés and dessert shops in Seoul were almost exclusively populated by female patrons: young professionals, students, and mothers. We discovered that—unless they're on a date or with their kids—South Korean men just don't go out for dessert or coffee. 

And what did a trip to Baskin Robbins do for these women? For many it reminded them of a simpler time when their lives were less laden with responsibilities. They described it as a small escape from stringent exams, heavy course loads, expectations at work, and the complications of adulthood. And for mothers, taking their child out for a treat was a way of making new family memories—connecting the old with the new.

A One-week design sprint

These insights inspired "Street Mood"—one of the three platforms we developed during our week-long design sprint. Street Mood is a delicious celebration of Ppopgi, Ddukbokgi, Kimbap, Gwangjang Market, and all the flavors of the Seoul streets. (With a Baskin Robbins twist, of course!)

Our 1-week Builder Sprint session took us from trend, to insight, to benefit-driven suite of over 20 new in-store concepts. In doing so, we needed to work with our clients to take into account the unique cultural nuances of ideating in a group session with varying levels of seniority.  Concepts emerged from Jobs To Be Done platforms that are then matched with knowledge of current manufacturing capabilities. Refinement of these ideas over the next few weeks lead to a range of consumer-driven, winning product propositions: 

"Street Mood treats are inspired by the unique shapes, colors, and textures of the delicious snacks you grab when you're out having the most fun. Cold drinks are layered with surprising toppings like mini red bean fish or sweet rice cakes, and cakes are grin-worthy sweet takes on familiar forms."

Most importantly, Korean heritage forms and flavors—like those iconic fish, sweet potatoes, and crispy caramels that all remind consumers of fun childhood experiences —all made cameo appearances. We even recruited our own panel of expats to help us refine language and confirm that cultural-insights were spot-in.


In Market

Talk about just desserts! The Flavors of the Month we developed were top performers for BRK, outperforming the sales share of all other monthly flavor options. In fact, they were so successful that they even exceeded sales of a Marvel and other global movie promotions. Not too shabby, considering Disney's marketing budget and brand awareness.


We're thrilled that Baskin Robbins Korea has asked us to completely fill their Flavor of the Month pipeline for all of 2019. We can't wait to go back to Seoul this Spring for our next sprint round. We'll be bringing our sleeping masks for the plane ride, and empty stomachs for the next round of Seoul tasting tours.

give us a shout!

We'd love to talk with you more about our Builder Sprint process for rapid insights-to-innovation fun. We'll never sell your information, but we would really enjoy getting to know you!

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