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Campbell’s seeks outside help with innovation

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 02-Apr-2009

Campbell Soup Company has opened up to outside innovation for the first time and is seeking ideas for new products and processes from scientists, entrepreneurs and inventors from the general public.

The concept of ‘open innovation’ began being discussed by the food industry in the 1990s, but the idea of widening the base for new ideas is appearing increasingly attractive in an industry where speed to market and accessing consumer niches is paramount.

Company spokesperson Anthony Sanzio told FoodNavigator-USA.com: “Innovation is the lifeblood of the industry and we recognize that not all innovation will come from within your own four walls.”

Campbell’s has outlined the major areas where it is seeking innovation, including assistance in meeting many market trends.

Apart from a general call for new products that could be commercialized further down the line, the company is also interested in hearing people’s ideas for environmental sustainability, and new technologies related to sodium reduction, vegetable nutrition and healthier fats and oils – all key areas of innovation for the food industry as a whole.

Sanzio said: “We are open to all ideas but mainly around our core categories…but we are also looking for ideas around processes, so it is commercial as well as functional.”

Learning by example

The company looked to leaders in the area, such as Procter and Gamble, who set the gold standard in the field of open innovation, according to Sanzio.

Campbell’s decision to reach out for new ideas is a radical departure from the company’s previous position.

“We thought it was time to open up to unsolicited ideas. We didn’t accept ideas from outside the company before because there was no policy to protect the consumer and the company,” Sanzio said.

He added that this was something Campbell’s dealt with without seeking the assistance of specialist advisors, although “we did benchmark against others like P&G and Kraft to see how they were doing it,” he said.

Kraft Foods, on the other hand, used open innovation service provider NineSigma when it sought microencapsulation technology for an oil material to be used in a powdered beverage. The open innovation format helped it to identify possible partners.

Despite its new outward-looking stance, however, Sanzio said that Campbell’s is not cutting its existing innovation budget, describing the latest move as “incremental”.

The open innovation concept has also been used by food industry heavyweights such as Kellogg’s and General Mills. It is often used by companies to find solutions that they believe already exist, but to which they do not have access, or to create affiliations between companies and individuals.

Campbell’s invitation for idea submission can be accessed online at www.campbellideas.com .