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Product innovation is essential to advancing the global food system and addressing some of the planet’s most pressing problems. Whether it’s the need to combat staggering levels of worldwide food waste or the growing demand for eco-friendly packaging, agile innovation skills have never been more critical. Increasingly, companies are looking for real-world learning resources to help them train employees who may be new to the innovation landscape, says Corrine Calice, PhD, IFT’s senior director of knowledge and learning experiences. But those resources can be hard to find.

This past year, Calice and her team decided to do something about that. In July, they launched a comprehensive, online course called the Product Development Bootcamp designed to help companies and individuals in the food and beverage space navigate and excel in the competitive world of product development. “Over 60 percent of our members are product developers, and our member population is young,” Calice says. “It seemed like a natural fit to develop a course that was aligned to the core needs of our audience.” 

Below, Calice shares what she’s been hearing from food and beverage companies about their product development needs—and how IFT has stepped in to help.  

What challenges are companies and employees facing when it comes to product development? 
There’s a need in today’s food and beverage marketplace to innovate faster and more efficiently to maintain a competitive edge. We’ve been hearing from companies that they would like to have an onboarding suite or a training of some sort that would help them advance the professionalization of new hires, especially new graduates.

From a training perspective, what do companies need that they don’t have now? 
New grads are coming into their new jobs with technical training and competency as food scientists, and their managers are looking to further develop their business acumen and the soft skills needed to effectively partner across their organization or company. We wanted to develop something that would help young professionals advance their careers. We also wanted to offer companies that have learning pathways for their staff a package they can use to provide foundational product development skills and a common vocabulary and product development framework to assist in cross-departmental collaboration. So, the Product Development Bootcamp is for people trying to build their careers but it’s also for companies trying to build their workforce. 

Can the course help startups with the product development challenges they face?
Yes! A lot of food and beverage startups have founders who aren’t food scientists and aren’t necessarily trained as food product developers. Startups are an important and emerging part of the food and beverage ecosystem, and we want to be able to help them develop some of their fundamental skills as they build their businesses.

Describe the Product Development Bootcamp course in a bit more detail.
The course offers ten fully online, self-paced modules that strike a balance between soft skills and product development processes. Modules cover everything from how to ask better questions to how to avoid food safety issues in product design, leverage consumer trends, approach shelf-life testing, and scale up smoothly. Every module is taught by recognized experts in the field who present case studies that are ‘gotcha’ moments, so that you learn from their actual, real-life mistakes. Think of it as short bursts of very practical, real-life advice from experienced, sage, product developers. In addition, every module has downloadable resources and printable job aids, templates, and takeaways that you can actually apply in your daily work. There’s also a robust library of articles for learners who want to go a little deeper. At the end of the course, participants earn a digital IFT Product Development Certificate. 

How has the bootcamp been received so far—and what’s next? 
So far, it’s been very well received by its intended audience. We’ve been holding virtual open houses and live demos once a month with strong interest and engagement. We’ve created a downloadable sample module for those who want to check out the course and have seen more than 500 downloads to date. Two universities are interested in using the bootcamp as a core component of their senior capstone courses. So, the course has been gaining traction. 

Interested in learning more about the Product Development Bootcamp? Download a free sample module.

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