General Mills launches innovation network

by Keith Nunes
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MINNEAPOLIS — General Mills, Inc. is set to launch an "external innovation program" during the first quarter of 2007. The program, called the Worldwide Innovation Network (WIN), is designed to expand the innovation efforts already under way inside the company.

"We have formalized our external innovation initiative to ensure potential partners recognize we are not only open to new ideas, we are actively seeking them," said Peter Erickson, senior vice-president of innovation, technology and quality, General Mills. "A focus on external innovation has been a critical competitive advantage for General Mills. We believe the next big advance, which may reshape the food industry, has already been invented by someone outside the company, and our goal is to be the first to find it."

Through WIN, the company is looking for patented and patent-pending ideas from inventors and small companies. General Mills has set up a web site (www.generalmills.com/win) that potential partners may access to contact the company. According to the company, submissions will be evaluated according to several criteria that focus on a brand or product line, uniqueness, and expansion or potential growth.

"At General Mills, we’re constantly on a quest to enhance the quality of people’s lives by delivering on the health, taste, convenience, and value of our products," said Jeff Bellairs, director of external innovation. "Partners who help us achieve our innovation goals will benefit from General Mills’ resources, scale and credibility in the marketplace to advance their own technologies and ideas."

This past June, Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., announced it was transforming its product development efforts to include the concept of open innovation. Kraft’s endeavor is a three-pronged approach and involves targeting "articulated" needs within the company’s product development pipeline; assessing unsolicited ideas from inventors outside the company; and looking for ways Kraft may further leverage its intellectual property outside the company.

Kraft Foods executives cited improving speed to market for its new products as a motivation for the effort.

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