Innovation: An Ingredient for Success, Not a Topping 

At IFT19 in New Orleans, I immersed myself in a blur of flavors and textures. I was surrounded by passionate professionals who loved their work and were excited to share their latest products.

I was a first-time IFT attendant. As a result, I was cautiously optimistic about – and at the same time overwhelmed by – the samples offered.  Having grown up in an Indian household, I take pride in my spice tolerance. Thus at IFT19, I started with the spicy food options.

Image of a Tabasco sundae at IFT

Innovation's Different Flavors

This approach led me to the Tabasco booth. You can imagine my surprise when they had a sample which combined my love for spice with my incurable sweet tooth. Tabasco’s pineapple scorpion sundae was “creamy vanilla soft serve ice cream topped with a Tabasco brand Scorpion Sauce-infused pineapple glaze.” The combination of flavors, textures, and novelty won my vote for the best sample at the Expo. And, as an Innovation Advisor, it also piqued my curiosity about the different flavors of innovation there.

Journey to Innovation

After eating my weight in samples and networking with the most interesting and gregarious experts in the industry, I heard from many attendees about their innovation needs. The professionals who stopped by our booth shared common questions:

  • How do you define innovation?
  • Can you help me make a new formulation?
  • How do I prepare for the future of intelligent systems?
  • Do I need to pay attention to CBD?

and many more.

Clearly, innovation can be overwhelming.

In many ways, a company’s journey to innovation reflects Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ theory. Maslow suggests that only after sustenance, security and community are established can one achieve self-actualization. At RTI Innovation Advisors, we don’t treat innovation as an afterthought or future need. Rather, we ensure our clients integrate innovation capacity into their culture, perspective, and insights. Our approach enables our clients to innovate consistently and successfully.

Are you struggling with innovation within your role or with your product offerings? If yes, my colleague Susan Mayer has developed a framework  based on the countless projects she has managed for leading food industry clients.  A certified food scientist who leads our food and agriculture sector, Susan works with our clients to help them focus on their position within the value chain and address the different dynamics of the industry so that they are better able to address different types of innovation needs.

Snapshot of the Innovator’s Dilemma

As we shared our framework at IFT19, many of the Expo attendees had questions about how or where to innovate; below, I’ve highlighted a sampling of our IFT conversations.

“I have 75 products. What am I missing?”  —  CEO, Fortune 500 company

We suggest you first focus on understanding the future consumer. Quantity is not necessarily quality and sometimes consumers are paralyzed by choice. We can help you with user insights and understanding the direction your customers are heading. Strategizing for the next generation of products should come naturally. Strategy should anticipate industry demands, rather than react to changes in demand.’

“What is the next big thing?”  — Product Manager

‘If your main source of identifying innovation is through expos like IFT, you risk falling behind in the market. While conferences provide exposure to a variety of cutting-edge ingredients and manufacturers, it is important to focus on your business and your customers’ needs. Rather than copying a trend or market pull, you should focus on understanding your products, capabilities, and mission rather than chasing the ‘next big thing.’

“How will a new ingredient impact my market?” —  Wholesale Distributor

With the growing interest in CBD, we hear this question daily, and the answer will depend on your business and your understanding of the ingredient. Let’s take CBD as an example. When working with clients on the pharmacology of cannabis, our in-house expert, Dr. Lawrence Blume, applies his knowledge of cannabinoid neuropharmacology towards food and beverage new product development. Combined with Dr. Blume’s expertise, the scientists at RTI bring more than 40 years’ experience exploring the benefits and risks of cannabis, and we’re well-positioned to help our food clients investigate the science and safety of cannabis compounds.’

Still overwhelmed? Have more questions? Let’s talk about your innovation challenges we can solve. With over 50 years of innovation experience and scientific expertise, we deliver insights and knowledge our clients need to create products and services that are good for consumers and good for the planet.

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About the author

Chiraag Devani works with our clients to assess technologies for commercial potential, conduct market research and intellectual property analyses, and create commercialization strategies for high-potential technologies. He brings to the group experience analyzing competitive landscapes and designing implementation strategies; he has also created customer acquisition models; identified new customer segments; researched product development pipelines for optimization and cost reduction purposes; and redesigned the entrepreneurial experience for internal inventors. Chiraag is passionate about the importance of innovation management in developing countries and is fluent in Swahili. He received a master’s degree in Engineering Management from Duke University and a B.S in Mechanical Engineering and Economics from Boston University.

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