Marianne Gillette

Moments after I sat down to draft this article, a story headlined “Consumer Spending Cuts Likely to Outlast Recession” was released by the Associated Press. The story provided details from a survey commissioned by IBM revealing that 72% of respondents have made “significant spending cuts” due to the economy. While price remains a major factor for 83% of respondents when shopping, 72% said that quality is also a top priority.

Of the 4,000 adults interviewed, 45% said “better value” will remain among the most important features when shopping for food as the economy improves, and 36% said “lowest price overall” will remain important. More than half indicated they are buying less food, and 45% said they’ve cut back on food they don’t prepare themselves.

Consumers continue to want food that is convenient, healthy, and delicious—and now more than ever—safe and economical. So the challenge to the food industry has increased because consumers’ desires for inspired foods and flavors have not diminished along with their spending habits. Food has to be better, faster, and cheaper. In order to be successful in this increasingly complex market, companies can no longer rely on closed innovation models and large internal staffing to fuel growth. We recognize the urgency of expanding to open innovation models and, in many instances, in identifying new and innovative partnership opportunities.

Open innovation counters the old mindset of absolute secrecy in product development. Companies are embracing shared innovation with trusted business partners. They are steering away from closed innovation that limits a company’s knowledge base and makes little or no use of the synergy that results through collaboration and partnering for external knowledge.

My employer, McCormick and Co. Inc., is fortunate to work with the top 100 Food and Restaurant companies in the United States, many of them global. It is clear to me that the most successful product development projects are the result of partnered innovation. Partnered innovation oftentimes involves joint discovery and commercialization by teams of suppliers, co-packers, and manufacturers working together in a rapid, well-managed process of open innovation. In order for these models to work, there must be absolute trust in the business relationship and impeccable technical project management. Collaboration at this level brings competence, commitment, and speed to the project, generally reducing the development time considerably. Reduced cycle time is critical to meeting today’s rapidly changing market dynamics.

Many have relied on IFT as a source for open innovation. IFT is fostering open innovation by bringing stakeholders together in new ways. At our Annual Meeting and Food Expo in June, innovators from  academia and industry holding food science and technology intellectual property (IP), served as presenters in an Intellectual Property Exchange (IPEX) session. During this informal networking session, attendees were invited to learn more about the IP that presenters were willing to sell or license. Exhibitor Spotlight Presentations were also offered on the Expo floor, providing a 45-minute snapshot of innovations from a select group of exhibitors.

We have also launched our Food Expo Innovation Awards Program within the past several years to showcase innovations in food technology. I hope other attendees of the June meeting were as successful as McCormick was in encountering innovation. Our R&D staff is excited about the potential of two innovative technologies we discovered in Anaheim. These two technologies, and the organizations that presented them, provided my employer with potential new solutions. These are critical solutions we need in order to meet consumers’ evolving expectations.

Innovation is essential to our business and, ultimately, our profession. Food Technology  frequently addresses the subject of innovation. In this issue, please be sure to read the article from A. Elizabeth Sloan, “Importing Ideas From Around the World,” to catch up on the latest new product concepts from around the globe.

Today we are competing in an economy that clearly is weak in many ways, but, at the same time, has been described as the “Creativity Economy.” To compete in an economy that is both “weak” and “creative” requires innovation. The core of our creativity must be simultaneously centered on science and on consumers’ interests.

I have said it before, and it bears repeating: There is no better time than the present to be a food scientist. The responsibility is ours to meet the increased challenges of an educated and dynamic market. What an amazing opportunity to do something truly significant for people around the globe. The world is watching. Let’s reach out, partner with our peers, and continue to fuel this creative economy.