Open innovation: What is Kraft Foods looking for from potential partners?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Kraft foods

Kraft: “If this is a breakthrough idea or a really new innovation, we may be ready to start talking about a development or licensing agreement.”
Kraft: “If this is a breakthrough idea or a really new innovation, we may be ready to start talking about a development or licensing agreement.”
Natural colors that remain vibrant in acidic beverages, ingredients that improve blood glucose control, technology to improve the flavor of robusta coffee, ingredients that provide sustained energy and new approaches to tackling fat bloom in chocolate…

These are just some of the things that Kraft Foods has asked potential partners to bring to the plate as its open innovation project steps up a gear.

Like many rivals, Kraft has been steadily ramping up its open innovation infrastructure to make it easier for external collaborators to work with its research & development (R&D) team and get new products to market more quickly.

Along with General Mills and Unilever, it has also started publishing detailed lists of technical problems it is trying to solve on a new open innovation website at kfcollaborationkitchen.com.

‘Kitchen-friendly’ ingredients

A look at some of the latest challenges it has asked potential partners to solve reveals a strong focus on natural ingredients - or at least ingredients with “kitchen friendly​” and not “chemical sounding​” names, sodium reduction and weight management.

For example, formulators at Oscar Mayer are looking for a “clean label ingredient or processing technology for processed meats to enable natural preservation without impacting flavor or texture and while maintaining minimum shelf life requirements”.

Product developers at the firm’s beverages division, meanwhile, are looking for “natural colors that delivery similar vibrancy to FDC dyes at cost effective usage levels in liquids with a pH lower than 4​”.

Natural alternative to Yellow 5&6 for mac & cheese

Colleagues in grocery are seeking a cost-effective, clean-label, heat stable colorant to replace artificial color Yellow 5 & 6 in dry cheese powder in its Macaroni & Cheese.

“One of the challenges in replacing Yellow 5 & 6 with natural color is the ability to stain the pasta with the yellow cheese color​”, says Kraft. “In addition, the use level required to match the color of current product also contributes to off flavor to the product.”

The desired natural colorant must be able to withstand wet processing with heat up to 205F for 30 min; stain pasta with yellow cheese color; have a clean flavor profile; match current cheese powder color profiles; and have a 12 month shelf life at room temperature.

Blood glucose control and lean muscle mass

On the health front, formulators are looking for “foods and ingredients with proven efficacy to improve blood glucose control and maintain muscle mass”; “ingredients that provide sustained energy to enhance ability to perform daily mental and physical tasks” ​and “lower cost alternatives to standard commodities that provide key micronutrients”.

They are also looking fordigital tools that “enable an individual to track energy levels over time” ​or “activate small but meaningful behavior change that can promote achievement and maintenance of a healthy weight”.

Tackling fat bloom in chocolate

In Latin American markets, Kraft is looking for food grade ingredients for that “cool down beverages once diluted” ​and “process or ingredient solutions to reduce or eliminate fat bloom in chocolate”.

How can Kraft improve the flavor and aromatic quality of robusta coffee?

Other needs call for new processing technologies or approaches rather than ingredients, notably something that can mitigate harsh, spicy, earthy or off notes in robusta coffee, says the firm.

For many robusta coffee has a less attractive flavor and aromatic profile and is perceived as lower quality compared to Arabica coffee. However robusta coffee is more hardy in terms of drought, pest and in the range of suitable growing conditions.

“Methods are sought to improve the flavor and aromatic quality of robusta coffee. The need is for any technology that leads to or enables the production of roasted robusta coffee with a flavor and aroma that is more acceptable to the consumer than it currently is, eg.  closer to that of arabica coffee.”

Acceptable solutions will not involve ingredients other than coffee, unless they are processing aids and cannot involve genetic modification of the coffee plant producing the beans, however.  

How open innovation works at Kraft

Firms that have responded to its briefs will be informed within eight weeks if Kraft is not interested in their solution, says the company.

If bosses are interested, a dialogue can begin - and a written confidentiality agreement may follow, it says.

“If this is a breakthrough idea or a really new innovation, we may be ready to start talking about a development or licensing agreement.”

* Kraft, which is splitting into two publicly traded companies later this year (Kraft Foods Group and Mondelez International), announced today that it plans to transfer its stock listing to the Nasdaq from the New York Stock Exchange to cut costs.                                           

Click here​ to access Kraft’s open innovation website.

Click here​ to read more about Kraft’s R&D activities.  

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