Openness breeds creative product development at General Mills

March 24, 2010

Coming up with the next great idea for a new food or beverage product doesn’t always require inventing it in the lab, General Mills Senior Manager of Open Innovation Mike Antinone told the audience at the Wellness 10 Conference powered by Food Technology magazine on March 24.

Over the course of the past several years, General Mills has adopted a “connected innovation” approach, which has allowed its product developers to do a better job of leveraging technology expertise from outside the company. One of the goals of the process, Antinone explained, is to reduce the pressure on company scientists and engineers to come up with “eureka moments” in the lab and instead to think in terms of finding innovation from new sources, including suppliers, colleagues, and partner companies. The goal, said Antinone, is to create a mindset of “the world is my lab.”

“What we’re looking for here are not necessarily ideas, but rather solutions,” said Antinone. He noted that company staffers started thinking about the need for a new approach after realizing that many of the General Mills product rollouts in 2004 represented what he described as “innovation with a small i.” General Mills started the process by establishing “innovation squads” comprised of staff members from various disciplines who didn’t shy away from challenging conventional wisdom.

Adopting the “connected innovation” approach has allowed General Mills to bring products to market more quickly, deliver more impactful launches, and reduce the risk involved in the product development process, Antinone summarized.