General Mills Develops Two New Food Products with Open Innovation Partners

Published Mar-07-14

Breakthrough:
How open innovation ecosystems developed and nurtured by General Mills and partner companies helped the American Fortune 500 Corporation to develop and market two new products for its Convenience & Foodservice division.

Company:
General Mills, United States

The Story:

General Mills Develops Two New Food Products with Open Innovation Partners General Mills, one of the world’s largest food companies is no stranger to letting the outside in. Since 2007 when the global company launched the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-Win) it has connected with numerous external partners to create, develop and launch new products. Among these are Fiber One 90-Calorie Brownies and Nature Valley Protein bars.

This approach has helped General Mills to improve the profitability and grow the market share of its $2 billion Convenience and Foodservice business. In fact most of the new product innovations for its convenience store channel are the result of engaging with outside partners.

Connecting with the Outside

General Mills connects with external partners via a number of ways. The first step is usually to try to leverage existing partnerships which also helps to grow those relationships.

“When we have needs that require new capabilities we leverage other avenues such as trade shows, supplier referrals, the G-WIN online portal and our own Supplier Summits," said Lynn Choi Perrin, a senior scientist for General Mills.

“Leveraging external partnerships to help us innovate effectively and efficiently is an inherent part of what makes us successful in the c-store channel.”

Product Innovations

Two of the company’s products that launched in January 2014 - Chex Chips and Nature Valley Nut Clusters - came about through relationships developed through open innovation.

For Chex Chips the General Mills Convenience Team sourced ingredients found in different varieties of its Chex cereals such as wheat, rice and corn from an external partner company. “We selected a partner company with the capability to make a product that looked similar to our Chex cereal pieces, but bigger, like a chip,” continues Choi Perrin. But the outside help didn’t end there as Chex Chips is produced by a co-manufacturer who has more flexibility of scale than General Mills’ own production facilities.

With Nature Valley Nut Clusters the format and recipe were developed in partnership with a co-manufacturer whose expertise was able to bring the product to market in a faster time frame.

Innovation Ecosystems

General Mills is making open innovation work by creating innovation ecosystems with smaller partner companies. In his book "Making Open Innovation Work", OI thought leader Stefan Lindegaard extols the virtues of small and big companies doing open innovation together. He says they are at their best when all participants benefit from the relationships not just the big companies. And the more this happens, the more companies are going to want to co-innovate with larger entities.

General Mills’ Lynn Choi Perrin concurs: “It’s critically important that we form win-win, creative partnerships to help us grow in this channel, and allow our partner companies to grow, too.

“Our collaborations go far beyond, ‘Can we run our product on your line?’ Instead, we look for true innovators who are willing to partner with us beyond production to build our brands and mutually benefit our businesses.”

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