This was just how R&D was done. You kept every aspect of product development locked away to prevent others from duplicating your efforts.
That is, until six years ago, when we turned our innovation strategy on its head with the launch of our open innovation program, the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN).
As we began to look outside of our walls for everything from big ideas to highly technical solutions, we recognized that there was a huge opportunity to better connect with our existing suppliers at the front end of innovation.
In 2009, we organized our first-ever Supplier Summit to bring together our top suppliers to network, hear about the company’s business strategies and learn about specific partnership opportunities. Prior to the summit, we posted several of current challenges on the G-WIN online portal to give our suppliers a chance to submit proposals in advance of the event.
One of those proposals evolved into a cross-divisional packaging conversion that would end up saving General Mills several million dollars.
Initially, one of our suppliers – a company that already produced the packaging for some of our snack products – proposed an idea to convert all of the bars we manufacture to a new type of wrapper that they believed may deliver a sustainability benefit. The proposal caught the attention of our Snacks division, who decided to move forward with testing the new packaging.
With our newly heightened focus on externally-enabled innovation, our teams leveraged the testing phase to collaborate more deeply with our supplier than we’d ever done previously. In fact, they were even able to go upstream in the supply chain by connecting with one of the supplier’s suppliers, something that we’d never done before.
That deeper connection allowed the team to tap into the very specific expertise of the base film supplier, and it helped that supplier better understand what was needed to produce a superior finished product.
It was during the testing phase that the project team recognized that the most significant benefit of the new wrapper was its increased puncture-resistance – something that could benefit every single bar produced by General Mills, including popular products like Nature Valley Granola Bars, Fiber One Bars and Golden Grahams Treat Bars.
A company-wide conversion to the new wrapper would not only result in more puncture-resistant packaging, but it could also drive volume pricing that would eventually unlock a cost-savings of several million dollars for General Mills.
Through an unprecedented cross-functional and cross-divisional effort, the company successfully kicked off the packaging conversion in December 2010 and the process is now complete.
“This project showed us that deeper collaboration, across the company and with our outside partners, can unlock savings in a big way,” said Sarah Moberg, senior R&D manager for General Mills’ Snacks division. “We also learned it takes strong alignment, clear communication and an attitude of working together to succeed with projects of this magnitude.”
Successful open innovation is all about collaboration, and this project is a true testament to the potential that can be realized through better collaboration, both externally with suppliers as well as internally with various divisions of the company.
General Mills held our second Supplier Summit in the summer of 2011, which generated more than 120 proposals, more than 100 of which are continuing forward for further evaluation.
To learn more about General Mills’ open innovation program, visit GeneralMills.com/win.
image credit: generalmills
Jeff Bellairs is the senior director of the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN), based in Minneapolis, Minn. He also is a frequent speaker on open innovation and has developed keen insights into the cultural and organizational approaches needed to create successful innovation programs. He began his career at GM in 1993.