Building From the Outside In: Open Innovation at Kraft Foods

At first glance, Formula One and coffee machines don’t appear to have much in common. But global food producer Kraft Foods identified a link and used the modeling technologies expertise of F1 engineers to improve the flow of water through its Tassimo coffee capsules. This type of collaboration is not unusual for Kraft. The company has a long history of working with third parties to develop new products and its interdisciplinary approach is relished by the company’s director of open innovation, Miles Eddowes.

Eddowes describes himself as Kraft’s “global landing strip for bright ideas from the outside world”. He maintains the company’s innovation “needs list” and acts as the filter between what Kraft is looking for from the outside world and what the outside world has to offer. Depending on the need, this means tapping into a worldwide community of academics, suppliers, innovation brokers and consumers to get whatever it takes to keep Kraft ahead of the game.

Getting “buy in” for the innovation process is not a major issue at Kraft, Eddowes says, not least because the company’s chief executive, Irene Rosenfeld, is a 30-year veteran of the food and drinks business with a strong background in consumer research who recognizes innovation when she sees it. She is very in tune with what makes a product successful and has set the company very ambitious targets in this respect, he explains.

Once the need for a product or technology has been identified, it goes through a conventional stage gate process with the cost of bringing it to market a key factor. If the most efficient way to do that is to partner with an outside firm, Kraft’s positive attitude toward innovation enables Eddowes to pursue that. He says Kraft “seeks to be the partner of choice in the innovation community” and recently launched a new open innovation website aimed at anyone interested in working with the company.

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