The Future of Chocolate in a Digital World

Published Feb-09-15

Hershey engages the crowd to look for new perspectives, directions and possibilities to help guide its strategic thinking for the future.

The Hershey Company, United States

The Story:

The Future of Chocolate in a Digital World Open innovation is not just about getting solutions to your immediate problems and creating new product innovations. Companies can also brainstorm the crowd to try and work out where their industry is heading in the next decade and beyond or where they might best concentrate their R&D expertise. The answers can help them to plan their strategic thinking.

The Hershey Company set an interesting challenge when it asked the public to imagine how Hershey’s can “deliver moments of happiness in new ways for people in a digital world.” The confectioner was interested in how its physical chocolate products could resonate in the online and digital environments.

Crowd Outperforms Experts

The challenge was hosted at SU Labs, an open innovation campus at Singularity University. Recognizing the power and potential of open innovation, a statement on the challenge page, read: “We’re counting on the fact that the crowd often outperforms the experts”.

Submissions were judged on their creativity, business viability, quality and future application. The panel was made up of executives from Hershey and SU Labs and the winning concept they selected was the brainwave of Evonne Heyning, co-founder of online education start-up Eddefy.

Her novel idea proposed a more transparent supply chain, from harvesting cocoa beans right up to and including delivery of Hershey products on store shelves. The innovative platform would include an app to help farmers develop more efficient production methods and track agricultural pests such as fungi. In conversations with farmers, Evonne learned that access to knowledge is one of the principle challenges they face.

On the consumer side of things, Evonne suggested that the public could customize Hershey chocolates and track the creation of products.

For her brainstorming efforts, Evonne was awarded $10,000.

Strategic Thinking

Hershey is not the only example of a company turning to the crowd to help with its future direction. For example, Google's Project Glass presented the crowd with a future technology and asked for feedback to help drive the development of novel consumer products.

The advantage of such an approach is that many organisations lack a diversity of perspectives. They are also often constrained by industry thinking and traditional practices, whereas an external person has little or no preconceived ideas of 'the way things should be done' and so is mentally freer to ideate.

If they are not already doing so, firms can benefit from engaging all of their employees in open innovation projects as well as the crowd outside the company walls.

Working with the crowd in this way has the potential to enhance the quality of the dialogue and expose a company to ways of thinking that may not have been on the radar. Ultimately it can improve decision making.

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