Boosting Innovation with Open Innovation Accelerators
Mars creates an open innovation accelerator to tap into emerging consumer trends and improve its innovation.
Mars Food, United States
In an interview with Just Food in April 2019, Clarence Mak, the chief innovation officer for Mars Food acknowledged there were a lot of areas that the global manufacturer of confectionery, food products and pet food haven’t tapped into.
Although Mars owns a number of leading global confectionary brands, the food space is moving at a rapid pace driven by ever-changing consumer needs
To grow its business and move into new markets or create new ones Mak stated that the company wanted to become more externally focused to understand what’s going on in the food world and more exposed to on-trend food categories. So, to up its innovation game Mars Food launched the Seeds of Change, an early stage, food-focused accelerator program
"For Mars Food, we have a purpose of 'better food today, a better world tomorrow," said Mak. "We're very interested in working with some of the more forward-looking entrepreneurs and start-ups to understand how they can help us to move up further towards that direction and, also us working with them, support them to scale their ideas."
Among the areas where Mars wants to gain a bigger presence are ethnic cuisines and plant-based foods.
More than 200 start-ups applied to the accelerator program in a wide range of emerging categories and these were narrowed down to ten finalists. They were invited to a food and beverage incubator to present their products which resulted in six being selected to participate in the four-month accelerator.
The final six companies were:
Brooklyn Delhi - creates nutritious condiments and sauces inspired by the culinary traditions of India.
Fora - makers of a non-dairy butter, Faba Butter.
Prommus - a value-added hummus brand.
NoBull Burger - handcrafted, plant-based burgers.
Oxtale - partners with chefs to help people cook traditional dishes in under 30 minutes.
True Made Foods - healthy ketchup, barbecue sauce and sriracha.
Each company was given a $50,000 grant and access to a panel of food industry mentors.
This first cohort of companies comprises US-based enterprises while the next start-ups to enter the open innovation accelerator will be from Australia. US companies were chosen because Mars wants to go to a market with a very active start-up scene before extending to all continents. Australia was selected because it's not as active a market for start-ups and so the global food giant might benefit by having a first-mover advantage.
Mutually Beneficial Open Innovation Relationships
Such is the pace of change in the food industry that numerous global players have launched accelerators in recent years. They include Nestle, PepsiCo and Kellogg. While the multinationals benefit from rapid-response innovation generated by start-ups they in turn profit from access to capital and other resources to scale up their operations.
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