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US food firm opens door to collaborators in innovation

01-Dec-2009

Fizzy food ingredients, reduced calorie pasta and a natural blue colour with the same vibrancy and stability as its artificial counterpart for the same price.
These are just some of the 37 technical challenges General Mills has asked potential partners to solve as its open innovation project steps up a gear.
The US-based firm, which is best known in the UK for its Old El Paso range and Häagen-Dazs ice cream, has been steadily ramping up its open innovation infrastructure to make it even easier for external collaborators to work with its research and development team and get new products to market more quickly.
While many rivals had embraced the principles of open innovation, General Mills was unusual in that it had also started to publish detailed lists of technical problems it was trying to solve on its website, said General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN) director Jeff Bellairs. "You can rely a little too much on serendipity discovering lots of interesting and novel ideas and technologies some of which fit your business needs. But over time we realised we needed to be more purposeful, that success rests on well-grounded and well-articulated business needs."
He added: "Yes, our competitors can see what problems we are trying to solve, I'm sure many of them have the same questions; but the question is not a secret the trick is how fast we can find the answer and get it to market."
While many firms had "dabbled" in open innovation, General Mills was one of the most advanced in developing the infrastructure to integrate external capability into its innovation, claimed Bellairs. "A lot of firms have dabbled with open innovation; we've been doing it for four and a half years. We've got 30 people that are dedicated to it full time."
Other technical challenges listed at https://openinnovation.generalmills.com include finding a natural alternative to sulphites to stop dried fruit in snacks going brown and 'consumer-friendly' antioxidants.

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