The company this week launched its Worldwide Innovation Network (WIN), designed to expand and accelerate its product innovation. "We have formalized our open innovation initiative to ensure potential partners recognize that we are not only open to new products and technologies, we are actively seeking them," said Peter Erickson, General Mills senior vice president of innovation, technology and quality. "A focus on open innovation has been a critical competitive advantage for General Mills. We believe the next big advance, which may reshape the food industry, has already been invented by someone outside the company, and our goal is to be the first to find it." General Mills said it is seeking patented or patent-pending products and technologies from inventors and small companies. Categories it is interested in include: baking products; cereal; frozen vegetables, pastries, pizza and snacks; refrigerated and frozen dough; shelf-stable meals, meal kits, soups and side dishes; snack bars, fruit snacks, salty snacks; organic soups, cereals, snack bars; yogurt; and soy beverages. According to General Mills, innovation - a key growth driver - has long been considered critical to the company's success. "External resources can radically improve how General Mills makes, markets and sells its products," said the firm. Previous innovation success through collaboration with external partners includes the company's Yoplait brand. Licensed from Sodima, a French dairy cooperative in 1978, Yoplait is now a $1bn business and the yogurt category leader. The company also said that joint ventures have helped it build strong business. In 1990, General Mills and Nestlé created a joint venture called Cereal Partners Worldwide, which now claims to be the global No 2 player in cereal. Through WIN, General Mills said it will continue to seek external partners who can deliver new products and technologies to grow its business. "At General Mills, we're constantly on a quest to deliver on the health, taste, convenience and value of our products," said Jeff Bellairs, General Mills director of external innovation. "Partners who help us achieve our innovation goals will benefit from General Mills' resources, scale and credibility in the marketplace to advance their own business. We believe that innovation, whether it is in our products, packaging or processes, should deliver mutual benefit to the company, our partners and the consumer." Submissions from prospective partners will be evaluated with focus on the fit for a particular brand or product line; uniqueness; and expansion or growth potential. Submissions can be made here.