Paul Cornillon, senior vice president R&D, at Arla’s Strategic Innovation Centre in Denmark said the company had sharpened its research focus, and in some respects had moved beyond its ‘Research Adds Value: Research Strategy 2012’.
Referring to this document, Cornillon said: “We haven’t moved 180 degrees away from it, but we’re moving out a bit in some areas, because we really want to focus what we want to do there.
“One of the reasons for the change was that Arla wanted to bring innovation to the top of the agenda. The company has focused a lot on efficiency and manufacturing footprint, to lower costs, that type of thing,” he added.
“Obviously, when you want to extend a company such as Arla to other geographies, this is not enough. We all know it. You need to bring more products to market, have more and more novelties that you can show to the consumer.”
Global dairy tastes differ
Cornillon added that Arla was keen to ensure that its products – researchers in Denmark and Sweden focus on yogurts, fermented milks, milk-based soups and sauces, cheeses, butters and spreads – suiteddifferent consumer groups globally: one example he gave was the Middle East.
“Arla is a very northern European/UK-based operating company that extends to The Netherlands, Russia, Germany and China. But it’s still a Nordic company somehow,” he said.
But Cornillon said that Arla decided last year to prioritise ‘innovation’, and to this extent had grouped NPD people together with marketing personnel in ‘global category teams’.
He said: “We bought all the NPD people with marketing, so we could have the whole pipeline fully aligned between NPD staff, and the marketing people who work with consumers. So we align a concept, develop a nice product and packaging that fits the concept and what consumers wanted.”
Cornillon said he started work at Arla in mid-October (in the past he worked for Tate & Lyle and Danone), and has since refocused its research around five axes, as he explained. Firstly, with regard to ‘Sustainability’, research priorities were now aligned with the firm’s ‘Closer to Nature’ ambition.
“We’re going to have major research programs around packaging, around how do we operate in manufacturing facilities, and what can we do to help manufacturing facilities have lower impact on our environment,” Cornillon said.
Arla's second new focus was ‘(New) Food Forms’, Cornillon said, with the company intent on designing products and concepts to meet the “conscious and unconscious” needs of consumers worldwide. “We’re going to see what we can do from a formulation standpoint to bring products and concepts to consumers wherever they are,” he said.
Harnessing 'milk power'
Cornillon added that Arla would work more closely with suppliers (of both ingredients and equipment), encouraging them to help lay the groundwork for new product developing, thus allowing the dairy firm to work faster and use resources more efficiently.
“Then when we bring the products into the pipeline, our NPD people can take over to fine-tune recipes, flavours. Say if the product was for France, we would target it to the French taste, etc."
‘Manufacturing Efficiency’ was the third research axis, Cornillon explained – focused on operations, capacity and cost improvements – while ‘Milk Power’ was a notable fourth pillar.
He said: “It’s about looking at milk nutrition. Being able to communicate the goodness of milk to consumers, extracting the right nutrients from milk, and processing these in such a way that we can give them to consumers through our food forms.”
Citing a direct link between milk chemistry research and nutrition benefits, Cornillon said Arla may want to make some functional claims regarding in “some products in some countries”, and communicate this to consumers.
Arla’s fifth new research axis related to ‘Microbiology’, as Cornillon explained: “A lot of our products are based on strains and cultures such as cheese and yogurt. We will look at how can we own the microbiology of our products, to develop products specific to Arla.”
Summing up Arla’s new research blueprint, Cornillon said: “Everything that is outside these five areas, we will not do. So it’s really helping us to focus our R&D spend.”