Nov 27, 2012 • By

Helping Gardetto’s create a savory snack

How do you introduce a leading salty snacks brand to convenience store cracker aisles when you don’t already make crackers?

Many companies would have balked at the challenge, but the General Mills Convenience team instead harnessed the power of open innovation to get the job done, resulting in a successful first-entry into the category.

In January 2011, the General Mills Convenience innovation team set out to enter a brand new category while minimizing the time and capital investment needed to do so. Gardetto’s popular line of snack mixes already had a loyal following among consumers who appreciated the premium brand’s signature, strong flavors. At the same time, the crackers-with-filling category was a $69 million and growing segment for convenience stores.

While General Mills did not have the internal expertise or manufacturing capabilities to develop and produce a savory sandwich cracker alone, we did have a five-year history of looking outside of our own walls for big ideas and technical solutions through our open innovation program, the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN).

To develop Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers, it would take working with three different external partners, who each provided unique expertise and value along the way.

First, the R&D team looked internally and enlisted scientist Cynthia Machado, who had recently gained expertise in developing cracker formulations, in part thanks to another General Mills cracker project she’d recently worked on with an external partner company based in California. Cynthia’s extensive knowledge about cracker formulation provided a solid foundation for the Gardetto’s Sandwich Cracker project.

However, her past experience had been in sweet crackers, while this new product would be savory. It was time to find another outside resource to help Cynthia deepen her knowledge to master the cracker formulation. She enrolled in courses at the world-renowned American Institute of Baking to get up to speed and bring what she learned back to General Mills.

Once the cracker dough formulation was perfected, the team turned to a third outside partner to rapidly commercialize and manufacture the new product. A trusted co-manufacturer that General Mills had worked with on other projects in the past proved to have the right capabilities and flexibility of scale to produce Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers.

In October 2011, just nine months after the project kicked off, Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers were ready for production, a feat that would have been impossible to accomplish internally in that amount of time and without a huge capital investment.

“Taking an open approach to product innovation allows you to learn things you can’t find in the books,” Cynthia says of the product development process. “During the development of Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers, we were able to make the most of the very specific expertise each of our external partners brought to the project, rather than relying solely on our own internal capabilities.”

Launched in the convenience store channel in June 2012, Gardetto’s Sandwich Crackers are available in two bold flavor combinations, Cheddar Bacon and Garlic Cream Cheese.

To learn more about the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network, visit GeneralMills.com.