Mars: An R&D problem shared is a problem halved...

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Open innovation Innovation

Mars: An R&D problem shared is a problem halved...
Mars, a private company once famed for its secrecy, is cranking up efforts to engage with external collaborators via the launch of a new open innovation website, in which it will invite potential partners to help it solve its research and development challenges.

The firm, which has confirmed press reports that its UK confectionery business - headed by Fiona Dawson​ - is to operate as a standalone business from the European operation, said the website would launch in the first quarter of next year and would list a series of ‘wants’ within Mar’s R&D function.

The move is part of a strategic plan to help the confectionery giant bring more exciting new products, processes and packaging innovations to market more quickly through working more closely with external partners, revealed Simon Woolford, who heads up Mars’ connectivity and collaboration team.

“There was quite a closed culture at Mars until fairly recently. There’s even an urban myth that Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory was based on Mars at Slough, with stuff going in at one end and stuff coming out at the other end and no one knew what happened inbetween!”

2007: Structural change

But things had started to change in 2007 when the company set up a central open innovation team to look at how to access a wider range of technologies, he said.

“But it’s not just about developing new products, it’s about renovating your current portfolio as well. For example, the work we did to reduce saturated fat in Mars Bars was the result of a collaboration between four parties.

“There’s still only three of us in the open innovation team, but we engage with every business function including R&D, engineering and procurement.

"We’ve trained more than 300 associates, who will in turn become ambassadors for open innovation right through the business so that it becomes embedded as a core part of how we operate."

Woolford, who was speaking to during a conference on open innovation organised by the Food and Drink Innovation Network, said bosses were still deciding what level of information to make public on the new website.

The site would not reveal detailed plans about Mars’ innovation pipeline, he said, but the ‘wants’ would be fairly specific, or bosses would be bombarded with ideas, suggestions and technologies from suppliers, academics, entrepreneurs and other third parties that did not match their needs, wasting everybody’s time.

Confidentiality concerns

In reality, most confectioners faced similar challenges and had similar wish-lists and wants, he said, citing the example of edible moisture barriers between layers of confectionery that kept biscuits crunchy and caramel or other toppings moist and soft.

More detailed information would only be revealed further along the process after potential collaborators had met and confidentiality agreements had been signed, he said.

Several of the major branded consumer products companies including Unilever​, General Mills​ and Kraft​ now have similar websites in which they invite potential partners to solve technical or innovation challenges.

Click here​ to access General Mills' latest R&D briefs.

Related topics NPD Confectionery

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