GM on food innovation

Seeking out disruptive technologies for the food industry

An interview with General Mills’ Disruptive Technology Manager and Global Connector, Olaf Gruess, who is looking to seek out new technologies, entrepreneurs and start-ups that have the potential to change or disrupt how the industry interacts with consumers to produce innovative foods.

Since joining General Mills in 1999 as a product developer, Gruess has seen the changes to the development of these types of technologies which are becoming increasingly more valuable to General Mills’ business. Gruess believes the key to success is to use a balanced approach of internal and external expertise, and always putting consumer needs first.

Gruess explained to FoodIngredientsFirst what it means to be a Disruptor: “I am charged with developing implementation strategies for disruptive technologies across all businesses within General Mills, which essentially means not only do I seek out technologies, but also manage how to seamlessly make them a part of our daily business.”

Gruess goes on to outline how disruptive technologies play a growing role in the food industry: “A disruptor is often using an emerging technology delivering on a new or changing consumer need under a business model that has the potential to gain significant share of a category in the food industry.

“These emerging technologies are often the enabler for a disruption in the consumer marketplace.

“The emergence of Greek yogurt is a perfect example for a disruptor. If you look at the yogurt aisle in the supermarket here in the US and compare it to several years ago, you will see the impact that Greek Yogurt had on the entire category. There are many more varieties of Greek compared to regular yogurts available.

“But the impact is not only visible in the dairy category, but other categories as well. Cereals, bars, dips, sauces, fruit snacks and even cosmetics containing Greek yogurt are now available and are disrupting other categories,” Gruess explains.

Gruess also notes that General Mills is looking at several potential disruptors in the areas of wearables, food delivery and personalised health.

“Personalised nutrition is a very important factor for all food manufacturers,” he says, “You can customise everything to your personal liking so why shouldn’t you be able to do that for your food based on your health needs?

“Approaches across disciplines and collaboration between large companies, SMEs and early start-up companies will provide the most robust solution.”

He adds: “We are not only looking at one technology that could enable the disruption but we are trying to find the intersection of different disciplines, fields and capabilities that could develop into a broad disruptor to General Mills’ categories.

“For example, what if a wearable device detects a specific nutritional need of a consumer and transmits that information to a local food manufacturer? This manufacturer then produces a food product, eg a cereal bar or a yogurt with those individualised nutritional requirements and delivers it to your house the next morning,” he says.

“There are several technologies in this equation that could disrupt the food industry, including manufacturers and grocery stores. The possibilities are equally alarming and endless,” states Gruess…..

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