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MINNEAPOLIS -- General Mills will officially launch during the first quarter of 2007 a Worldwide Innovation Network (WIN), which it said is "designed to expand and accelerate the innovation advances already underway inside the company."
Through the initiative, General Mills said it is seeking external partners with new products and technologies that will complement its own brands and businesses.
"We have formalized our external innovation initiative to ensure potential partners recognize that we are not only open to new ideas, we are actively seeking them," said Peter Erickson, General Mills' s.v.p. of innovation, technology, and quality, in a statement. "A focus on external innovation has been a critical competitive advantage for General Mills. We believe the next big advance, which may reshape the food industry, has already been invented by someone outside the company, and our goal is to be the first to find it."
Inventors and small companies with patented and patent-pending ideas can contact General Mills at www.generalmills.com/win. Submissions will be evaluated according to several criteria, with a focus on the fit for a particular brand or product line, uniqueness, and expansion or growth potential.
Among the business categories of interest are baking products; cereal; frozen vegetables, pastries, pizza and snacks; refrigerated and frozen dough; shelf-stable meals, meal kits, soups and side dishes; Snacks bars, fruit snacks, popcorn, salty snacks; organics (soups, cereal, snack bars); yogurt and yogurt beverages; and soy beverages.
"Partners who help us achieve our innovation goals will benefit from General Mills' resources, scale, and credibility in the marketplace to advance their own technologies and ideas," noted Jeff Bellairs, General Mills' director of external innovation. "We believe that innovation, whether it is in our products, packaging, or processes, should deliver mutual benefit to the company, our partners, and the consumer."
General Mills has a history of innovation success through collaboration with external partners, such as when it licensed the Yoplait brand name in 1978 from French dairy cooperative Sodima. Yoplait is currently a $1 billion dollar business and the yogurt category leader.
Joint ventures have also been successful for General Mills: In 1990 the company and Nestle created a joint venture called Cereal Partners Worldwide, which is now the No. 2 cereal player globally. More recently, General Mills introduced Nature Valley Apple Crisps, which the company discovered at a European food show and subsequently brought to market.
General Mills' global brand portfolio includes over 100 U.S. consumer brands. The company is also a leading supplier of baking and other food products to the foodservice and commercial baking industries.