How long has open innovation been a fixed strategy at Campbell?
We’ve looked at open innovation for five years or so, but in the last year or two it’s been more serious and holistic. Some companies rely on external input for one-off projects and that’s about it. But we approach this as building relationships that we are going to nurture over time, because we’re working with partners who bring something to us beyond just one-off solutions. In a world of limited resources, we try to pick which partners we want to work with and invest as much as we can to get the most out of those relationships.
When you partner with peers, is it a delicate thing to manage?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It’s not that delicate when we include peers among the partners with whom we are working on sustainability solutions. For example, as we participate in the sustainability consortium that Walmart has started, it’s not unlikely for us to share information with our peers. It’s a little more delicate if a partnership leads to a joint collaboration or development project for some new technology that we want to pursue together or some innovation in the marketplace we’d like to launch together. In those cases, the legal aspects are more complicated and would require more time to manage.
Do you seek relationships within academia?
We have a sustainability partnership with Arizona State and with the University of Arkansas. They’re doing quite a bit of research on our behalf evaluating carbon footprints and things like that.
Has your relationship with suppliers changed much over the years?
There was a time when nearly everything we did with suppliers was purely transactional. So all we focused on was the lowest price for a commodity-type package. Bid it out to the lowest bidder and go with what they bring you. While parts of our portfolio are still the same, to a great extent we’ve evolved beyond that. What we are really looking at is to build relationships and partnerships with our suppliers that go beyond a single transaction. That has led us to narrow down our suppliers to a core group with whom we want to build relationships. The goals are operational excellence, low total cost of ownership, and innovation. And when we look at new suppliers, we look at it through that lens. What we want to know is, will they be a better partner than who we have today?
Where do you look for emerging technologies?
We have consulting partnerships that help us. Attendance at events and shows plays a role, and reading magazines, too. For areas of specific need we have scouting programs in place where we actively look for technologies we think we need. We’ve also begun doing packaging fairs for existing as well as potential suppliers. It’s usually around a theme, like soups and sauces or Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish. We have about 50 suppliers coming to a fair on soups, sauces, and meals. About half of the suppliers are new. We basically say to them here is where we are in our business strategies and where we’d like to take our business. Come back to us with innovation ideas leveraging your technology. Think about the consumer through Campbell’s lens and in terms of how you can fill our need with your technology. These fairs also involve our corporate leadership team, including the CEO, the head of supply chain, and the heads of the business units involved. They spend about a half a day going through ideas with these suppliers or potential suppliers asking, ‘How can you help us fill the funnel?’ These fairs are great ways of bringing new suppliers in.