Innovative Tools Help Food and Beverage Processors with Product Development Ideation

Crowdsourcing, open innovation and consultants can bring fresh perspectives to your product development process.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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We feel like we've given you lots of discussion and no clear roadmap in the above section … and maybe that's the point. Crowdsourcing is so flexible as to be ill-defined, so use it however your company wants to use it.

Managed crowdsourcing/open innovation

One company that claims to manage crowdsourcing but looks more like an open innovation platform is Allfoodexperts, "a company hosting the interests of experts owning specific and high level agri-food know-how," according to the firm's mission statement. While its concept and fundamental process has existed since 2011, Allfoodexperts just started business this January.

It sends your product development problems out to only a qualified group of experts, as the name implies – so it's not the free-for-all of unmanaged crowdsourcing, but it promises better results.

"The operation of the company is executed on an open innovation platform and by a community with the principal objective of delivering fast and reliable value-added applied solutions to different interest groups having challenges within the agri-food industry," explains Henrik Stamm Kristensen, Danish businessman who built Premium Ingredients (not the U.S. ingredient company that formerly used that name), a maker of functional ingredients and custom blends, in Spain in 1997.

In starting his business from scratch, Kristensen practiced crowdsourcing before the term was coined, networking and asking anyone who would listen how to solve the problems he was coming up against. "We learned how to innovate and to cooperate and to get help from outside," he says.

And while Nestle or General Mills can solve most of their own problems or know where to go for outside help, "Ninety percent of the world's food comes from small to medium-sized food companies," Kristensen claims. "They all need technology. They all need solutions to problems – solutions that someone out there already knows. But how do they find those people in an efficient way?'

Enter Allfoodexperts.com. On the one side are members, a growing list of food industry experts (there's room for more!), some of whom were laid off or retired from some of the world's largest food companies, all of them coming with references or referrals. On the other side are what Kristensen calls "challengers," companies that pose a problem that Allfoodexperts shops around to its member-experts.

"Someone in our community raises a hand and says, ‘I can solve that.' We vet them and send their simple explanation on to the challenger. If both sides agree to work together, a contract is created."

That's the point to start discussing fees, including a payment to Allfoodexperts.

Both before and since the January launch of this company, Kristensen claims Allfoodexperts has solved:

  • Ingredients for three-dimensional printed bakery products.
  • Advanced application uses of NIR equipment for food ingredient powder blend.
  • Combination of mould inhibitor and stabilizer for meat applications.
  • Food ingredient for nitrification of fish.

NineSigma is another such company, founded in 2000 on the premise that "industry needed an effective means for broadcasting corporate needs to potential solution providers to stay ahead of the technology curve, similar to the methods employed by the U.S. government research group DARPA.

"Companies today recognize the value of open innovation and are eager to overcome the ‘not-invented-here' mindset that we at NineSigma found to be prevalent when we started in the early 2000s," continues the company description. "But it was those selling challenges a decade ago that helped us refine our message and develop a proven methodology that coaches a client through each step of the open innovation process, from adopting an open innovation strategy to successful outcomes, like contracting with solution providers and acquiring new technology solutions.

It lists among its "real world open innovation examples":

  • A resealable package closure system for Kraft Foods' dry snack products. It became the peel-and-reseal packaging on Oreos and other cookies.
  • Pourable frozen pastas and sauces for "a multi-billion dollar company," so consumers could prepare the exact portion desired.

Even more-managed open innovation

"Crowdsourcing is still in the development phase," sums Miller of Innovation Focus. While maintaining openness, his company and other consultancies provide an orderly structure to the process.

Innovation Focus has helped companies, many of them in the food & beverage space, think and look outside their own four walls for help in developing products. The firm promises "to help you develop and implement profitable ideas for growth … using a unique mix of creative and analytical processes."

Miller likes the diversity of crowdsourcing and the lack of restraints, but he clearly favors an assembled team charged with a task. "You need to form a good team and trust the team," he says. "But it may not be a team entirely from within your company. You should look outside for experts" -- experts, he says, on consumer needs, packaging, novel ingredients, whatever may be key to your project.

Miller also is a contributor to books and articles for the Product Development and Management Association, "a volunteer-driven, not-for-profit organization with the mission to improve the effectiveness of people and organizations in product development and management." It's another good source on this subject.

"Even if you have really smart people, a bunch of people from the same company who have been there for years will come up with the same ideas they tried 20 years ago," warns Beckley of The Understanding & Insight Group, Denville, N.J. A former product development executive at Nabsico and Quaker Oats, her business development and strategy practice has a strong focus on "innovation development, new product development and new processes," and it promises ROI – "return on innovation."

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