Open Innovation Speeds Up Development of a General Mills Snack Product

Published Mar-11-13

General Mills finds an open innovation partner to help it get a new snack to market.

General Mills, United States

The Story:

Open Innovation Speeds Up Development of a General Mills Snack Product "I think the emphasis on open innovation has really broadened the minds of a lot of the people in our technical organization and across the company," said Jeff Resch, senior scientist, General Mills.

"We’re not just looking at what we can do with the current plant or the current lines that we have in our current factories. We’re looking out at what other partners there are in the marketplace, and what kind of new products we can bring together with those partners much more quickly than we would by ourselves alone."

General Mills has long been one of the most enthusiastic cheerleaders of open innovation. Through its Connected Innovation program, the G-WIN initiative, the X3 Process, and many other projects, it seeks efficient ways of matching its business needs with the talent that will help it achieve them.

For most of its history, the company carried out its research and development the old fashioned way; keeping future plans, projects and product ideas a secret, even from its closest suppliers. Then in the last decade it radically transformed how it operated and innovated. Today, it looks outside for just about everything from big product ideas to technical solutions.

This approach was achieved with the help of its employees who see the opportunities of working with external talent.

Connected Innovation

Although open innovation is a core company strategy and philosophy it prefers the term connected innovation. And those connections could be with colleagues, suppliers, other food companies, and even companies in entirely different industries.

Fiber One Snacks

A case in point is the development of one of its snack products. The American Fortune 500 corporation had come up with a new product for its popular line of Fiber One snacks, a wholesome chocolate fudge 90 calorie brownie.

Like many innovations it was a team effort. The Fiber One team thought up and developed the concept, and the R&D department perfected the dough to make it.

However, there was a snag. General Mills realized that it did not possess the internal expertise or the baking manufacturing capabilities to bake it in large quantities.

So it embarked on a search for a partner that would help it plug the gap in its knowledge, and get the product to market.

It found one, a company called Hearthside Food Solutions that General Mills had worked with years earlier. What made the firm so attractive for this project was its technical expertise and pilot plant facilities that could handle full-scale production of the brownies.

Open Innovation Benefits

The Snacks division estimated that working together with an external partner shaved nine to twelve months off the time it would have taken to get the brownie from concept to launch. Hearthside Food Solutions was happy with the deal as well as it got to share in the marketplace success of Fiber-One 90-Calorie Brownies.

In a 2012 interview with ‘Food Manufacturing’ Michael Antinone of G-WIN said the product was on target to reach $120 million in its first year of retail sales.

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