The open innovation service provider, which already works with some food manufacturing heavy weights such as General Mills and Kellogg's, also has a system for longer-term development cycles called Request for Proposal (RFP). The new approach, called Request for Solution (RFS), is expected to be useful in cases where a client company believes that a solution - such as a certain ingredient or processing technology - already exists on the market. Companies may turn to NineSigma's new service if they are sure what they are looking for already exists on the market, but their own networks have not turned up expected results. NineSigma engagement manager Kevin Stark told FoodNavigator-USA.com that in many cases the seeker may also be evaluating possible solutions from their existing suppliers, so they can use it to expand their network and give a point of comparison. "The RFS expectation is that it is likely to be a supply of material," said Stark. "The motivation to respond is 'we could be negotiating a supply agreement in a year'". The company developed the new system at the suggestion of a client, who saw an opening for a simpler search vehicle than RFP to communicate a material need. It was developed late last summer and, since being trialled with a few selected clients, is now being rolled out more aggressively as a standard product. Stark said that he has run projects over the last few year that he believes would use the RFS system if they were carried out now. One example he gave was a search for salt substitutes that can reduce sodium, but still retain a suitable flavour in the finished product. One early use of the new system was Kraft Foods, which last year identified possible partners in the microencapsulation area for an oil material to be used in a powdered beverage. All of NineSigma's projects have several mechanisms to get the search requests into the hands of people who can respond. The call for solutions appears as active projects on its website, and a weekly email newsletter listing live projects goes out across potential solution providers every Wednesday. NineSigma also has some affiliate networks, whereby a contact will send details of projects to their own contacts. Such networks may be industry associations, companies, or even geographical. But Stark said: "We are not fully online, like Ebay. We understand that people need to talk to people." To this end, NineSigma has a research team that works on every project, to hunt out and get in touch with people and companies who may be able to offer a solution but are not currently in the network. This approach is especially important with the RFS approach, as the team can make immediate and direct contact with companies, pointing them towards potential new clients. Crucially, searches are not restricted by industries or other boundaries. Companies in any one sector may be used to going to trade shows, but it is not so easy to meet people outside their industry. But when it comes to the solutions, it may well not matter what industry the provider comes from. For instance, people working encapsulation may hail from the food industry, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, or paints and coatings. Stark said that in a lot of cases, the vast majority of responses are relevant. More than half projects come back with unexpected results.