Aug 10, 2012 • By

Building sustainable partnerships for innovation

The trend toward open innovation is challenging the traditional model of sourcing innovation internally. At General Mills, we see this movement opening doors to external resources and expertise that complement, enhance or accelerate the work already taking place inside our organization.

The concept of open innovation can lead to a spectrum of collaboration opportunities— from sharing technologies more effectively internally to partnering more closely with key suppliers to finding new business partners in entirely different industries.

After formally launching our open innovation program, the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN) in 2007, we recognized early on that there are significant opportunities in applying principles of open innovation with some of our core suppliers.

In fact, many of our recent product introductions can be traced back to collaborations with these key partners.

To support these relationship-based partnerships, General Mills put in place an external partner development team to help build meaningful and sustainable relationships that not only benefit our company and brands, but also our external partners.

Before 2004, General Mills’ strategic sourcing department oversaw relationships with most outside suppliers, many of which were viewed through a highly transactional lens.

While the key focus for partnerships at that time was cost savings, we began to recognize that our most successful and impactful suppliers were bringing value through a variety means, including cost savings and growth. Our successes were the result of longer-term, win-win relationships we’d developed and maintained through many years.

With this in mind, our vision for supplier partnerships evolved.

  • Our buying teams today are focused on developing holistic category strategies that deliver competitive advantage through top line and bottom line growth solutions.
  • We have also evolved our external partner development capabilities to accelerate innovation from partners in marketing, technology and licensing. Our team possesses brilliantly diverse professional backgrounds, including sourcing, finance, law, marketing and sales.

They work together in two collaborative teams – Innovation and Technology and Marketing Partnerships Licensing – to develop and source intellectual property and growth solutions for our business.

I had the opportunity to share my recommendations to help companies form the right strategic partnerships, and make them sustainable over time, in a recent column in Food Technology (available to subscribers),