May 20, 2016 • By

What does it mean to be a disruptor?

There’s a lot of talk about “disruption” happening today across industries, and the search for something new to replace existing methods and markets.

Innovations in technology get the most headlines, from wearable devices to communication. It’s an exciting and evolving field. Even in the food industry.

We have a Disruptive Technology team at General Mills, which seeks out new technologies, entrepreneurs and start-ups that have the potential to change – or disrupt – how we interact with our consumers and produce innovative foods.


John Harthorne (CEO, MassChallenge), Emily Riley and Olaf Gruess (General Mills), and John Valentine (Director of Partnership, MassChallenge).

Olaf Gruess leads the team as a Global Connector. We asked him what it means to be a disruptor.

“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,” says Olaf. “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.”

Olaf says the team is currently looking at several potential disruptors in the areas of wearables, food delivery and personalized health.


Interestingly, we’re not only looking at one technology that could enable the disruption but Olaf says we’re trying to find the intersection of different disciplines, fields and capabilities that could develop into a broad disruptor to General Mills’ product 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, like a cereal bar or a yogurt with those individualized nutritional requirements, and delivers it to your house the next morning.

Olaf 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.

Olaf says it’s important to leverage our global reach, global experience, and global network to stay on the pulse of trends.

“We participate in several research consortia around the world that cover a broad range of science and technology areas,” he says. “Through that, we are constantly exposed to the front end of innovation but are also building new ‘Networks of Networks.'”


Olaf Gruess, center, evaluating Europe’s top PhD theses at the 10th European PhD workshop on Food Engineering and Technology at Bühler headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland. (Courtesy: Bühler Group)

Recently, we partnered with MassChallenge, the most start-up friendly accelerator. Our involvement with MassChallenge will expose us to trends not only in the food industry but also in adjacent disciplines that have transferable applications.

“It’s energizing, not only to provide General Mills’ expertise and resources to emerging startups, but also to learn from them and gain insight on new technologies that can make us more efficient in how we bring food innovations to our consumers,” says Olaf.

A food scientist by training, Olaf began his career at General Mills in 1999 as a product developer. After a cross-functional role in marketing, he returned to R&D to lead our long term sodium reduction efforts. Since 2012, he’s worked in the our “Connected Innovation” area, and now as a Disruptive Technology Manager and Global Connector.

“I’m 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,” he says. “Key to success in my experience is using a balanced approach of internal and external expertise, and always putting consumer needs first.”

Olaf says his work is far from boring, and offers intriguing opportunities every day.

“Being exposed to new and emerging technologies, products, start-ups and trends on a daily basis is extremely exciting,” he says. “Developing a strong understanding of those technologies and ultimately being able to transfer them into practice is both challenging and rewarding.”

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