2009 R&D Team Winner: General Mills Gets Innovative with R&D Strategies

General Mills takes the cake (and the yogurt) in the $501 million in sales and greater cateogry for our 2009 Food Processing R&D Teams of the Year.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Betty Crocker Super Moist cake mix

It’s not just new products that result from the G-WIN program; existing products can be improved, as well. That was the case with Betty Crocker Super Moist cake mixes from the Baking Products Division.

“Our R&D team partnered with one of our current ingredient suppliers to look for a technical solution that would help us reduce the cost of our cake mix formulas, yet protect the great taste that consumers love about our Betty Crocker cake mixes,” says Karen Wilcox, R&D manager in the Baking Products division, and with General Mills for 10 years.

“One of the different tactics we took this time was to have a more open dialogue with our partner, sharing consumer insights on why our consumers like and prefer our cake, as well as the formulation and functionality of our cake mixes. We created a higher level of engagement by giving them that additional information, which allowed us to accelerate our timeline while still improving results.

“There were three things that contributed to the success of our partnership. [First] we were really clear up front that we wanted to be a partner, not just directing them what to do. Together we defined what the project objectives were, our roles and what the timing would be. We held weekly dialogues with the supplier during that development timeframe.

“The second thing is that we worked closely on a joint assessment of the work as it progressed. We executed a set of designed experiments and different solutions to find the best one. Our supplier created samples, sent them to us, and the two teams got together on a conference call and evaluated them together.

“The third thing is that when there were critical milestones, we got together in the same place. We took what we learned in the lab and applied it in our plant production setting, and our partner came to our plant to participate in those trials,” she says.

Sharing information in a real-time environment enabled a clear understanding, according to Wilcox. “It was a live sharing dialogue, and easier to understand. By doing that, the teams were able to avoid the back and forth travel which would have added time and cost to the project.

“Our development timeline was two months — very fast -- and the newly formulated mix will appear in stores this fall,” she says. “Due to the success we’ve had with this product, we are already applying this level of collaboration to the next generation of development and are looking to extend these best practices to our other projects. It’s becoming a new type of behavior within our group.”

Wilcox lauds the open innovation approach. “The ability to work more closely with current and new suppliers enables us to be more effective in the work we do and get the best solutions for General Mills more quickly than in the past,” she says. “Through the partnership with our external partner, our team was able to accelerate and elevate our project and still deliver the same great taste of our great cake mixes.”
“What these three examples demonstrate is that open innovation is not just about new products,” Bellairs points out. “It’s about working with suppliers more effectively for holistic margin management or healthier products.

“There is a whole host of benefits we are seeing with this approach,” he concludes. “It is our vision that at some point in the future everyone in R&D will have a role in our open innovation program and this new way of doing business, and that open innovation will be widely spread throughout the R&D organization.”


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