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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"Instead, get X number of people who are experts on the subject you're dealing with. Get them from anywhere. You need some company people to keep the idea within the abilities of your company, but you don't want them all to be your people.

"And you really don't have to get all the people in the same room at the same time. You can do it virtually," she adds. "There are a lot of good virtual/digital tools." The Internet is a good way of getting people outside the company involved in the process.

However, both Beckley and Miller add, don't overlook people within your own company who are not part of the product development team. Rank-and-file employees on the plant floor or in the office are consumers and parents, and they might make good members of an ideation team. A properly worded description of the type of insight you want might turn up these people right under your noses.

Processors open the innovation window

Most recently, food and beverage processors have gotten comfortable enough with open innovation to start practicing it on their own – without even the help of outside consultants.
General Mills made itself a poster child for open innovation when it created its G-WIN program, which stands for General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network. Back in 2005, the company created a strategy to bring together the brightest minds and best ideas, internally and externally. In 2007, the program evolved into G-WIN.

It's an effort that involves tearing down some of the walls and the proprietary thinking rampant in the food industry, the company says. General Mills product developers use it to pose questions and problems to anyone who will listen, both within and the company and outside of it. It also allows people to come to General Mills with ideas for new products.

Although it has a significant internal component, a lot of the spotlight on G-WIN has shone on its external effort to get out the word when General Mills was looking for a solution to a product development problem. It's brought new partners to the company -- whether they are entrepreneurs, inventors, university researchers or suppliers -- and incorporated new technologies that complement Big G's existing brands and businesses.

"When we originally created the program, we were focused on external innovation," Jeff Bellairs, director of G-WIN, explained to us when we named General Mills our large-company R&D Team of the Year in 2009. "Since then, we've realized that the important thing is connection – or what we call connected innovation. Recently, we created innovation entrepreneurs using resources based within the division, yet totally dedicated to open innovation. [We also] build partnerships from outside [that] can supply us with technology, products or some unique capability."

A key component is connecting more effectively with suppliers "For years, we kept our suppliers at arm's length guessing what we were looking for. Now we are more explicit," says Bellairs.

"After we adopted a more collaborative approach, one of our suppliers came back with a frozen smoothie kit prototype. It became the impetus for the launch of Yoplait Smoothie kits, launched in club stores [in 2008], where they became a tremendous success."

Kraft Foods Group maintains Kraft Collaboration Kitchen, where it regularly seeks solutions such as "natural colors that delivery similar vibrancy to FDC dyes at cost effective usage levels in liquids with pH <4."

Unilever's search sounds grounded in its sustainability goals, but not entirely (see Unilever's Open Innovation Center). "We have world-class research and development facilities, making breakthroughs that keep Unilever at the forefront of product development. But we know that the world is full of brilliant people, with brilliant ideas – and we are constantly looking for new ways to work with potential partners."

So the company suggests viewing its "latest list of wants," which at this writing included natural red color for fruit and dairy products, sugar reduction, less salt and preserving food naturally.

Dave Fusaro is the Editor in Chief of Food Processing magazine. You can email him at or check out his .

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.

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