Who’s the innovator here anyway? The democratisation of innovation

Emma Gubisch, head of Consumer & Sensory Insight at Leatherhead Food Research, highlights the most effective ways to respond to consumer trends and industry challenges.

5 December 2018
meet the experttechnology

Meet the Expert

Who: Emma Gubisch

What: Head of Consumer & Sensory Insight

Where: Leatherhead Food Research


Technological disruptions and changing consumer behaviour are re-writing our relationship with food and drink. Rather than putting their heads in the sand, the key players in the food and beverage industry are caring for their existing product portfolios while preparing their businesses to deliver the consumer and technology trends which are on the horizon.

What might those trends be? Is it retail environments where we experience products rather than buy them? Will homes have fridges that can re-order products and turbo-ovens that can steam, cook and microwave? Will the Holy Grail for consumers be meaningful experiences with their friends and family rather than products alone?

A new democratic approach to innovation demonstrates how our industry is getting itself ‘race ready’ and how an ivory tower mentality will not serve. Organisations will have to use the brainpower of the very best people, both in and outside the company, to solve some of the most challenging problems that the industry has faced. Leatherhead Food Research’s interviews with industry professionals shows that this democratic approach is founded on some key principles:

  • Understanding your consumer – innovation should stem from the needs of your customers. Paradoxically, while easier to reach and collect consumer opinion, interpreting what consumers really want can seem harder than ever. At Leatherhead, we believe it is about using blended research methods, as well as understanding a consumer’s relationship with a product from purchase, through usage and then how they feel when they are deprived of that product.
  • Casting the innovation net wide – ideas can come from anywhere and anyone: from marketing as a result of a consumer insight or technology led. They can come from someone working in a restaurant who can see first-hand how consumers are engaging with their product or from someone working on the factory floor who identifies an issue with a piece of machinery.
  • Creating conditions for innovation to thrive – these types of projects need time and investment to flourish. This means creating a culture of innovation throughout the business, as well as modifying or flexing governing processes to accommodate uncertainty (because there is a lot of uncertainty in innovation).
  • Developing structures to unlock value – it is important to have the structures in place to ensure knowledge and ideas are shared across the business and may mean reorganising a business to ensure innovation thrives.
  • Tapping into the wisdom of crowds – getting more heads together, from outside the company as well as within, gives a greater chance of finding an answer. This is heralding a much more collaborative approach to innovation, with companies working on projects with a range of stakeholders, from retailers, ingredient companies, academic institutions and new start-ups.

Companies also realise that they need to woo the person who holds the power – the consumer, who can assign companies to the history books with a swipe of their smartphone. Understanding what consumers really want (and not just what they seem to be asking for) is the challenge for our industry. Our bets are on the companies that can successfully interpret those consumer insights and take the democratisation of innovation one step further by inviting and welcoming consumers to co-create new product experiences.

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