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Business Innovation Lab is the capstone practicum program for the MMM Program, the dual-degree MBA and Master's of Design Innovation at Northwestern University, meant to set us loose with everything we've learned on a big, real business problem from a company sponsor.

I worked in the role of design strategist with three teammates from MMM: a retail tech expert, a former biochemist, and a tech industry product marketer.

Our team focused on leading Barilla's first-ever human-centered customer discovery of their foodservice market segment and designing three potential pilot programs to be handed off to different functions within our large client stakeholder team.


the prompt

How might Barilla become a more valuable service partner rather than just a commodity product provider to the foodservice market segment of customers?

our solution

By understanding how different parts of the foodservice ecosystem define creativity and offering support for the functions where they are most constrained, Barilla can become a valuable partner.

research process

interviews and field research

We interviewed foodservice professionals from throughout the value chain and visited restaurant kitchens to observe pain points, frustrations, and points of energy and excitement.


I led the discussions with traditional conglomerate foodservice vendors and pop-up ghost kitchen operators to gather insights from opposite ends of the industry.

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Human-centering the value chain stakeholders

I led the team to develop the framework to organize and illustrate the relationship between stakeholders in foodservice institutions based on their attitude towards and definition of creativity.

Key insight: all of the stakeholders in the foodservice industry claim creativity, but recognize that their kind of creativity is different than their coworkers'. One solution would not be able to address every area and be strong.

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ideating and focusing on where to solution

Our team had very different working styles individually, so we ideated several different ways in order to play to everyone's strengths and collaborate effectively.

Throughout our brainstorms, three key needs emerged that spoke to our team and everything we'd learned about our end users.

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We prototyped our Pasta Stories solution and tested it with three pairs of diners.

By recording a one-minute video and bribing six of our classmates with free pastas, we were able to gather feedback that validated the value of Pasta Stories as a way for Barilla to get their brand to the foodservice end consumer in a delightful way, and were able to identify what Barilla would need to improve about the customer experience to make it smooth.

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Because our client team was made up of many people from different teams - culinary, marketing, innovation, DEI, HR, and sales - we decided to develop multiple solutions that could be handed off to different parts of the team.

1. Pasta Stories - for the culinary and marketing teams to develop, a way to engage directly with the end customer of foodservice and deliver a message about quality and Italian authenticity. This solved for the pain point of restaurant customers often not knowing they're eating Barilla pasta.

2. My Barilla - for the innovation team, a case for investment in their digital platform for foodservice customers.

3. Ghost Kitchen in a Blue Box - for sales and strategy, a way to leverage existing knowledge and expertise at Barilla with smaller businesses through new channels of ghost kitchen and food business incubator networks.

Barilla has sponsored MMM capstone projects for over ten years, and our client team of VPs and Directors told us that ours was the best research and most valuable presentation they'd ever seen.

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