Investing in the Future of Food: Nestlé’s strategy to innovate from within pays off with Wildscape

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

While many big food companies are outsourcing innovation through venture capital arms and accelerators focused on external startups, Nestlé is innovating from within through an internal incubator that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit of its existing employees, such as Emily Hoffman, who recently co-founded and launched the new frozen food brand Wildscape.

In 2018, Hoffman decided to take the next step in her long career at Nestlé and try her hand as an entrepreneur by joining other like-minded employees from the company in Nestlé's fast-paced internal incubator Founder Foods.

Through the program, Hoffman said, “we were given total freedom to come up with something new to the world. The only catch was we had nine months to create it from scratch.”

While nine months may not sound like much time, Hoffman said the program works because it “takes the best of the startup world, the agility, the speed, the freedom to really make decisions not only with your head, but also your heart, and it combines it with all the resources and knowledge and experience that you get by working at the world’s largest food and beverage company. So, it is really kind of an unbeatable combination.”

Still, Hoffman acknowledged her team needed to work quickly and take big risks in order to successfully develop and launch a new product in just nine months.

She explained that at the start of the program her team knew it wanted to create something single-serve, premium, delicious and healthy. But beyond that, she said, they had to rethink “everything from the ground up.”

She said this included thinking about “what do people want to feel when they are eating, how do they want it to taste, how did we want it to taste?”

The end result was Wildscape – “a fresh take on frozen”​ that is “all about big pieces of vegetables, hearty whole grains … really bright, vibrant sauces and when we use meat it is really flavorful cuts in just the right amount.”

The line currently includes six options that layer premium, on-trend ingredients that are difficult to make well at home, such as cauliflower rice, in microwave-safe plastic containers that are ready after six minutes of heating.

Building on a lessons learned from heritage brands

While creating Wildscape, Hoffman also drew on her nine years of experience at Nestlé, including time she spent working on heritage brands, such as Stouffer’s and Nestlé Toll House, and in the company’s innovation group. This experience gave her additional insight into why consumers seek frozen foods and where the category needs to go to meet their evolving demands.

“What has been really exciting to see in the frozen category is it is starting to push ahead,”​ Hoffman said. “It used be more standard flavors that you would find everywhere else. But what we love is that we are introducing people to ingredients that they know and like and want to try, but they don’t know how to make the recipes themselves.”

The frozen space also helps consumers manage ‘meal prepping,’ a technique that many shoppers who are pressed for time in the evening are adopting to help them put dinner on the table faster, Hoffman said.

Reflecting on her experience with Nestlé and Wildscape so far, Hoffman says one key to succeeding in the competitive food and beverage industry is to always keep the consumer in mind.

“I talk about having the consumer’s voice in your head. You really want to get that exposure where you want to hear the people in your head, and you know what they want, what they are looking for, what they care about, and making sure you are always thinking about them as you are making decisions about your brand,”​ Hoffman said. “That is something that everyone in marketing can afford to do – whether you have a startup sized budget or a Stouffer’s sized budget.”

From there, she added, success is all about taking calculated chances, being open to feedback and making improvements based on what consumers say.

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