Drinking coffee is a given for students pulling all-nighters to finish up final projects, but for a dozen MBA students this spring, coffee drinking was the project.
The students spent hours on recon at local cafes, serving coffee to classmates and surveying them on every detail of the experience, and conducting a nationwide poll on coffee consumption habits. The research team was part of the Haas@Work program, and their goal was to help Peet’s Coffee & Tea find new ways of engaging Millennials.
And they did: Jessica Mitchell, Peet’s Director of Innovation, said that the students’ ideas are more than likely to see the light of day. “We felt they had a lot of potential to reach customers who are new to coffee. They’re really tangible solutions that we could see implemented.”
Peet’s earned a place in local lore and helped launch a nationwide specialty-coffee trend after opening its first store in 1966 in North Berkeley. Peet’s now has 237 cafes and 141 licensed partner locations nationwide, including seven in Berkeley. So it was only natural that Peet’s turn to Berkeley-Haas for a shot of creativity.
Haas@Work dispatches teams of MBA students to help inject fresh thinking into client companies. Students began with insight generation, identifying Peet’s core competencies and its customers’ core values, before moving on to idea generation—“It’s literally putting as much stuff out there as you can,” says team member Michael Christman, MBA 16.
After paring their list down to 15 ideas, the team worked with Peet’s management team to select the top three. Next, they designed and ran micro-experiments to validate their key assumptions. Students then transformed their insights into concrete recommendations for some of the company’s top leadership, says Ceren Baseren, MBA 16.
“The fact that you, as a student, have a chance to have your voice heard and to present in front of such a high-level client is extremely valuable,” she says.
Past Haas@Work clients have represented a wide range of industries and products, including banking, enterprise software, electric vehicles, health care, cloud computing, and pet food. In addition to the dozen students at Peet’s this semester, another 12 worked for Bio-Rad Laboratories, a 63-year-old medical diagnostics company also founded in Berkeley.
“What’s really unique about the model for Haas@Work is that the teams operate like an outsourced innovation agency,” says Dave Rochlin, Haas lecturer and Haas@Work executive director.
Over the course of the semester, students are introduced to the innovation framework and tools, and the teams collectively put in thousands of hours identifying insights and developing novel concepts for—and with—their clients, Rochlin explains.
“In the case of Peet’s, we took a deep dive and fresh look at both coffee drinkers and cafes, and how people connect with coffee, to try to understand areas where Peet’s innovation team can take advantage of unmet needs,” he says. The team also spent time examining how the company’s unique sourcing and roasting model might be further leveraged, holding in-depth discussions with Peet’s coffee roasters, buyers, and baristas.
In addition to Full-time and Evening & Weekend MBA students, Haas@Work is open to students in the Haas school’s Executive MBA program and the UC Berkeley School of Information.