Pillsbury_2 In order to breathe more life into its stable of consumer brands, General Mills is embracing a new strategy of open innovation. The company hopes to follow in the footsteps of companies such as Kraft and P&G, who are at the forefront of the open innovation movement. Two years ago, for example, General Mills began forming a world-wide innovation network, with employees collecting names of scientists and technologists to contact when the company faces innovation challenges as well as attending inventor trade fairs and trade shows around the world to access new ideas.

Green_giant Business categories of interest include baking products, cereal, frozen vegetables, pastries, pizzas and snacks, refrigerated and frozen dough, shelf-stable meals, meal kits, soups and side dishes, snack bars, fruit snacks, salty snacks, and yogurt and soy beverages. Prospective partners can contact the company online or by calling a special hotline. As a General Mills spokeswoman points out, these outside ideas are the key to expansion and product differentiation:

"A benefit to General Mills' open innovation is speed to market. Working with an external partner or taking a product that is already developed and branding it with one of our brands will allow us to bring it to market much more quickly than if we developed it and built it in our supply chain to ourselves. In some cases we can bring a product to market in six months that otherwise would've taken two years... Extending our brands has always been key to our innovation strategy, and our open innovation strategy will help accelerate that."

That all sounds well and good, but it sounds like General Mills is really much more interested in standard licensing deals with celebrity chefs from the Food Network. For example, the first products resulting from the company's open innovation initiative will actually be a series of frozen dinners from Mario Batali (aka "The Iron Chef"), and not a new product developed by an "outside" member of the new innovation network. Much as other companies have inked deals with celebrity chefs like Rachel Ray or Emeril Lagasse, General Mills hopes to re-create the same magic with Mario Batali.

[image: The Pillsbury Line]