Local conferences are a great way to stay up to date. I’m based in New Jersey, and the New Jersey Food Processors Association annual conference in March reminded me what a great location the state is for food businesses.
This applies wherever your company is on the food value chain, whether your company is 100 minutes old or 100 years old, whether you are a household staple or at the prototype stage. Don’t just take my word for it; even PRI’s The World thinks New Jersey is the food capital of America.
From Surfside Clams whose factory’s eastern side is the Atlantic Ocean, to AeroFarms where urban farming puts salad on the table year-round for the New Jersey/New York area and beyond, to Rutgers Food Innovation Center where companies get their start, and the brands you’ve known your whole life – Unilever, Mondelez, Goya, Campbell Soup, and Hain’s Celestial – they’re all in New Jersey.
What’s that mean to innovation? It means that much of what you need to start a company, find the right partner, or address your customer’s unmet need is probably in New Jersey. There are many benefits to looking locally to develop or grow your business. Collaboration, idea-generation and problem-solving benefit from being face to face. Critical mass, idea exchange and reaching partners who can round out or extend your product or service accelerates innovation.
Local resources and innovation
Here are three take-aways from the annual conference as they relate to innovation and growing your business.
First, define your goal and what you need to accomplish it. In places like New Jersey where the infrastructure is in place, you may have a great product but aren’t sure where to make it or how to sell it. Or, perhaps you have a great plan to sell a service but aren’t yet sure what features will attract customers.
It’s helpful to partner with people who can provide the insights you need. We often work with clients to help answer these and related questions about products, markets, and the technology to make and sell their offerings. One great example is an entrepreneurial client that had a process to make protein powder from insects. This client needed to understand its market – customers and consumers – before moving forward. Through our insights work, we provided the client with a good understanding of the market, and this client was able to start a round of funding to grow its business.
If you’re not sure what consumers want, we can help you figure out where trends intersect with consumer needs, and what role you can play to meet those consumer needs. We’ve worked with clients to examine mega-trends and consumer insights, and put roadmaps in place to make the future a bit more accessible and profitable.
Second, your organization may grow to a point where it’s considering international expansion. If that’s the case, there are additional considerations. Here in New Jersey our two large ports are advantageous once companies start to think about letting the rest of the world experience their products. Want to know more about markets in other parts of the world? Need to know how the consumer value proposition is different between New Jersey and New Guinea, for example? We can help. The ‘I’ in RTI stands for International.
We bring to our clients support from international offices in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa and across the United States; project experience in over 140 countries; expertise in 250 disciplines; hundreds of industry specialists and researchers; and decades of combined experience. We can help you sort out what makes a product desirable anywhere in the world, and then how to make business viable with local partners and strategies to be successful.
Third, as you start to innovate, tap into your local knowledge base. Look for a local network of universities, companies, technical organizations and incubators. Another great resource for manufacturing support is your state’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a group with which we’ve partnered for 10 years. These resources can help you develop products more rapidly and scale your business more effectively.
If you’re not sure where to start or if you’re ready to get started and need outside expertise, let us know. RTI Innovation Advisors has over 50 years of experience with innovation and technology for companies around the world, and we can help with any phase of the innovation funnel. How can we help you?
About the Author
Susan Mayer is our technical food industry leader, with great problem-solving, strategic, and communication skills. Our clients rely on her experience in product development, product lifecycle management, and public-private food industry partnerships to understand how technology, research, and the right suppliers can create innovation opportunities.
How does her work with us benefit food companies? Susan believes that our human-centered design perspective makes all the difference. ‘Product developers always believe they are thinking about the consumer, but our human-centered design approach to considering technology brings an entirely different perspective.’ Susan applies her love of food science to her hobbies; she and her husband formulate and brew beer, much to the delight of their friends and neighbors.
Susan has an M.S. in Food Science and a B.S. in Foods from the University of Maryland, College Park, and is a Certified Food Scientist.