Unwrapping Food Innovation: Overcoming common challenges

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Ashley Pollock explores how food companies can overcome the challenges they face by creating a culture of innovation, and what the rewards might look like after doing so.

In the first instalment of Unwrapping Food Innovation, Ashley Pollock, R&D Tax Consultant and food innovation specialist, explored the increasing importance of innovation for food companies and their main challenges. In this second article, Ashley discusses how food companies can create a culture of innovation to overcome these challenges, as well as some of the rewards it can generate.

Industry changes and increasing competition, not to mention the other challenges we discussed in our last article, can make food innovation appear somewhat daunting and potentially unachievable for many companies. While most may see the benefits of creating a culture of innovation within their company, the journey isn’t the same for every organisation and with no one-size-fits-all path to follow, it’s easy to see why it’s tempting to put innovation on the back-burner until another day.

So, how do dynamic food businesses foster a culture of innovation and what gear do they need to shift into in order to set themselves on the pathway to success?

Creating a culture of innovation

Whether they’re delivering pure innovation or making subtle changes here-and-there, the businesses that are most effective at food innovation are undoubtedly those who’ve created a culture of innovation within their company by focusing on, and nurturing, growth in key areas, including:

1. Leadership – by aligning their entire company with their ‘why’ (just ask Simon Sinek), purpose, reason for existing and unique culture and values, business leaders can create a clear and consistent picture of innovation that can be embraced company-wide. It’s essential that CEOs lead by example, foster a culture of innovation across all areas of their business and change the way all of their employees think and work.

2. Culture – fostering a culture focused on learning and innovation gives employees the time and space to experiment with new techniques, push the boundaries, explore left field, think outside the box and really get their creative juices flowing. Innovation and ideas need to be driven by everyone across an organisation. Incentivising on bigger thinking outcomes, actions and deliverables rather than existing metrics is a great catalyst for making this happen.

3. Processes – ensuring you have the right processes in place is vital when it comes to delivering successful innovation. Whether it’s pure innovation or modifications, food companies need the right processes and procedures in place to (a) make it happen and (b) turn their visions into reality. Having processes that are easy and efficient to follow, right from concept through to launch, helps ensure ideas hit the market at the right pace and meet consumer demands at the right time.

The rewards of food innovation

As challenging as food innovation might be, there are plenty of benefits to be reaped by forward-thinking businesses who are prepared to step forward and embrace it.

It would appear from stats recently published by Forbes that innovation, as well as investment across the UK, is buoyant. The figures put the UK 5th in the Best Countries for Business and 8th in the Top Cities Around the World to Launch Your Startup, neither of which would have been possible without continued investment or innovation.

Yet given these stats, and others like them, it’s believed that as little as 1% of qualifying food companies are currently utilising the lucrative R&D Tax Relief Scheme. But why?

Broadly speaking, innovation involves challenging existing ways of thinking and looking at things from a different perspective. Ironically, what many food companies don’t realise is that there’s a lot to be gained by taking an ‘innovative’ view on the way in which they see innovation within their organisation with regards both new and existing products. No more men in white lab coats and no more thinking it only relates to big ‘blue sky’ thinking.

By looking at innovation differently, food companies can harness its full potential, as well as be rewarded for their research, development and innovation in the process with incentives such as the R&D Tax Relief Scheme. Contrary to popular belief, recovery of R&D costs doesn’t just apply to pharma and Blue Chip businesses, but to all companies, including food manufacturers, who are developing new products, processes and services or improving existing ones. (For more details about the scheme, check out this page).

Food innovation doesn’t necessarily have to involve reinventing the wheel and coming up with the latest product that knocks everybody’s socks off. Believe it or not, it can involve the tiniest of tweaks, such as using sunflower oil rather than olive oil to produce houmous with a slightly different organoleptic delivery, changing from a synthetic ice cream thickener to a more natural one or adjusting the rheology of a bread dough to make processing more efficient. Whatever the change, some degree of trialling and testing with the existing product formulation and production processes will be required, which is the essence of R&D.

So, whilst there may be challenges associated with food innovation, there are challenges that forward-thinking food companies can turn to their advantage with the right insight and approach and use as a springboard to up their innovation game and be rewarded for it in the process. I’d say it’s a win-win.


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