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Tate & Lyle launches open innovation platform: 'We want to send out a signal to the market'

By Elaine WATSON , 29-Jan-2013

From food ingredients that reduce the blood glucose response to food intake, to natural high-potency sweeteners, digestive health and weight management ingredients, and plant-based ingredients that can mask bitter flavors…

These are just some of the ingredients and technologies that Tate & Lyle is asking potential partners to pitch to its research & development (R&D) team as it launches a new open innovation platform.

The online platform is part of a broader strategy designed to make it easier for external collaborators - from start-ups and universities to SMEs and larger companies - to work with its (R&D) team and get new products to market more quickly, Open Innovation manager John Stewart told FoodNavigator-USA.

"We have had an open innovation team in place for a couple of years, and we also work closely with our ventures arm, but we're still relatively new to it. This [new platform] shows that we realize that open innovation is not just about tech scouting.

"We want to send a signal to the marketplace that we are on a journey, that we are growing an evolving and we want to make it as easy as possible [for potential partners] to be able to engage with us.

"We know it can be hard to work with a large organization so having a dedicated website and a team to guide people through the process is important."

There are brilliant minds outside Tate & Lyle that are working on ingredients and technologies which we simply haven’t thought of…

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA last summer, Innovation and Commercial Development chief Karl Kramer said: 'Would our customers recognize us as one of the best innovators in the world? Not yet, but that’s my aim.'

Unlike the detailed, application-specific, technical briefs found on open innovation websites run by Kraft (Collaboration Kitchen ) and General Mills (G-WIN ), Tate & Lyle’s site is a bit more like Unilever’s ‘challenges and wants’ site, in that it sets out broader strategic goals and outlines areas of interest, such as natural high intensity sweeteners and salt reduction solutions.

However, Tate & Lyle is not interested in vague or woolly ideas or suggestions, but ingredients or technologies with "defensible IP" that fall within the areas outlined on the site, stressed the firm.

"We’ve found that the most successful partnerships have come from inventions that already produced some proof of concept – and we prioritize technologies which are protected by patents."

It also stresses that it is looking for ingredients that can be manufactured on a global scale. “A partnership with us could launch your specialty ingredient or innovative technology to a worldwide market.”

While Tate & Lyle’s R&D team is among the best in the world, added the firm, it does not suffer from the ‘not invented here syndrome’.

We know there are brilliant minds outside Tate & Lyle that are working on ingredients and technologies which we simply haven’t thought of. If yours is one of them, we’d love to hear from you.”

How open innovation works at Tate & Lyle

Potential collaborators that make submissions on the site will be contacted within six weeks, says Tate & Lyle.

“It may be that you are looking for a joint development project, sales and marketing expertise, a licensing agreement, or a combination of all these.

“Or you may be interested in talking to our venture capital arm, Tate & Lyle Ventures – in which case we will put you in touch with them.

“Our Open Innovation team works directly with potential partners, ensuring they get access to the Tate & Lyle resources they need, whether that is the use of our pilot-scale facilities, our Innovation Center, applications support teams, global regulatory support, or marketing and sales.”

What is Tate & Lyle looking for?

Tate & Lyle is looking for assistance in four areas:

Food technologies:

  • The capability to design, optimize and scale up novel food-grade enzymes.
  • Platform technologies that provide new routes to manufacture food ingredients (eg. by enzyme hydrolysis, fermentation, or extraction from novel raw materials).

Health and wellness:

  • Dietary fibers with good digestive tolerance that do not change the taste or sensory properties of foods.
  • Ingredients that can replace or reduce salt in food, without creating any unpleasant flavors.
  • Ingredients with proven benefits to human health, in particular digestive health and weight management.
  • Technologies (eg. enzymes or processes) that can modify carbohydrate structures to improve their health benefits.
  • Food ingredients that reduce the blood glucose response to food intake.
  • Viable sources of soluble dietary fiber that are stable at a low pH and demonstrate good digestive tolerance.
  • Bulking agents with fewer calories than sugar.

Sweeteners:

  • New, natural high-potency sweeteners.
  • Natural, low- or zero-calorie alternatives to sugar that have sugar’s sensory properties.
  • Plant-based ingredients that can mask bitter flavors, enhance sweetness, or change the temporal profile of sweeteners.
  • Technologies that can reduce the hygroscopy of solid crystalline powders.

Texturants:

  • Clean label ingredients that add texture and mouthfeel to foods.
  • Plant-derived fibres that bind water, add bulk and texture to food.
  • Fat mimetic and fat replacement ingredients.
  • Ingredients that act as emulsifiers, with high oil-loading capacity for use in beverages.
  • Ingredients or systems that provide improved freeze-thaw stability for sauces.
  • Clean label emulsifiers to replace mono- and di-glycerides and lecithin.
  • Clean label replacements for or extenders of guar gum and / or gelatin.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA last summer about the best open innovation sites, senior vice president of business development Mike Golembieski said: “The more detail you can provide the better.”

Vague technical briefs generate equally vague responses and waste everybody’s time, said Golembieski, adding that negotiations must also begin with an “open and honest discussion about objectives on both sides”.

While some people might worry about giving away too much about their R&D plans on these platforms, the secret isn’t in the problems, but in the solutions, he noted.

Being coy doesn’t benefit anyone.”

Click here to access Tate & Lyle’s new open innovation website.  

Click here to read our interview with Mike Golembieski.

Click here to read our interview with Karl Kramer, who heads up the firm’s Innovation and Commercial Development (ICD) group.

Industry opinion leaders will explore the topic of open innovation at our inaugural Food Vision event in Cannes on March 22-23. For more information, click here .

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