2011 R&D Team Winner: Unilever

Our 2011 R&D Team of the Year winner for the large company category has home-run products with one eye on costs and the other on sustainability.

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How long does a new product take? "Some products can be on the market in a few months from idea to shelf, while others take years," he explains. "We are determined to reduce our overall time to market by systematically identifying and eliminating all the 'time killers' lurking in the project timelines. One of the key words in the fast-moving consumer goods industry is 'fast.' "

With such a vast portfolio of products, we couldn't help but wonder which products he is proudest of. "This is a difficult question, similar to having to choose between your children, and I am proud of all my children," he replies. But, also like a proud father, he highlighted a few outstanding accomplishments of his team.

First was the line of P.F. Chang's Home Menu (frozen dishes) launched about a year ago. "Our talented chefs and food scientists have been able to capture the essence of the iconic dishes served at the famed restaurants, while our process engineers used advanced, proprietary processing techniques to preserve the original flavor, texture and taste of the unique ingredients."

He also pointed to the recent launch of Magnum ice cream in the U.S., bringing to America one of the world's largest ice cream brands (available in 40 countries).

"The R&D team worked hard at implementing in North America a proprietary processing technology enabling us to make unique novelties, such as the Magnum Doubles that are made of an ice cream bar surrounded by a hollow chocolaty coating containing a liquid caramel or chocolate sauce." His favorite is the double chocolate variant: chocolate ice cream with a chocolate sauce covered by a real Belgian chocolate coating -- a chocolate-lover's delight!

Ideation sessions have a crucial role in new product development, but there are other avenues for idea-gathering. Habif emphasizes that Unilever is open on all fronts.

"As I mentioned before, good ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere: from new technologies enabling us to make products that could not or have not been manufactured before to consumer observations yielding really strong insights into unmet needs," he says. "We are constantly talking to consumers and customers and scouting for new technologies."

As for the challenges facing the industry and what keeps him up at night, Habif says, "Like all CPG companies, we are facing commodity cost pressures, so at Unilever we have a real responsibility to drive all the unnecessary costs out of our products to help our consumers enjoy their benefits."

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