It would be hard for the large multinational food companies to ignore the rapid innovation taking place in their industry. In fact, many of them are now starting to engage with startup companies trying to disrupt their industry to keep up with new technology and consumer trends.
Each company has slightly different priorities and opinions on how best to do this, a panel discussion revealed at the Future Food Tech Conference in New York City last week.
The panel participants were: Chobani, the yogurt maker that reached $1 billion in revenue just five years after being founded in 2005; PepsiCo, the global soda giant; and General Mills, the multinational food brands company.
Here’s a slice of what they said about their approach to food innovation and startups.
PepsiCo’s Zachary Ellis, external innovation & corporate venturing, detailed a diversified approach at the global soda company:
“We realized we couldn’t do everything ourselves. No one knows our business as well as we do, but there are even more clever minds outside the organization we can engage with. We engage regularly with [Venture Capital Firms], universities, startups, our supplier base, and investor networks.”
General Mills’ global nutrition & technology solutions manager & principal engineer Christine Ng talked about the multinational’s use of open innovation to engage external expertise and stay innovative.
“I think with the fast-paced world that we’re in today, it is increasingly quite a daunting task to keep up with all the things going on so I think from an open innovation approach, it’s really [important] to leverage people with diverse backgrounds and see people with different disciplines to collect information from people outside the food industry – people who are doing great things in other technology fields and figure out how to actually leverage that. Over the last ten or twenty years, we’ve seen a lot of advances in the pharmaceutical industry and many other industries leveraging life sciences approached and many exciting innovations that may still apply to food.” –
Chobani has created its own incubator program to connect and promote startup businesses. Director of the program Jackie Miller said the business tries to maintain its startup ethos, despite the business being worth $3 billion to $5 billion, according to its most recent capital raising round in 2014.
“It’s been amazing. I think that because it’s such a top-down initiative… There is this pervasive culture of innovation, keeping that scrappiness, that startup DNA even as you grow. Even now we received over 500 applications to our next class… I have a committee of a dozen people internally who have been involved as mentors who are helping me go through these applicants and we have an incredible snapshot of all of the innovation archetypes in food and beverage product companies across the country.
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