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Something From (Almost) Nothing

FrankPerdue.jpgOne of the slickest business moves is creating a new product and experiencing the birth of a market. Things that didn’t exist until a “need” was created: Deodorant. Cellphones. Viagra. Personal computers.

But a more interesting phenomenon is when you take an item that already exists and turn it into something valuable. Frank Purdue’s started branding chickens. Branded bottled water. Turning a cup of coffee into something interesting and expensive; Starbuck’s gift to the world. You get the idea.

But how about a new sensation that’s always existed but had not been identified?

In 1907, a Japanese scientist, Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University said: “There is a taste which is common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but which is not one of the four well-known tastes of sweet, sour, bitter and salty.” He called this taste “umami” and identified glutamate as its source.

We know monosodium glutamate (MSG), an ingredient which we frequently try to avoid but is quite common in Asian cooking. Some people (my brother, for example) complain that they get headaches when they eat food in which it’s an ingredient. And there are those who believe there’s a link between MSG and autism, as well as other diseases, including obesity. (This may be so, though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled that MSG is “Generally Regarded As Safe.”).

So Prof. Ikeda named something that already existed and created a new taste. Here’s your challenge: find something that’s already around and brand it, giving it greater value. Turn something that’s taken for granted and undervalued and make it special and valuable.

Sounds difficult but the upside can be enormous. Good luck!

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