General Mills: We’ll only solve global food security challenge if we embrace open innovation

General Mills: Open innovation key to solving food security challenge

Related tags Open innovation Agriculture Food security

Can we feed nine billion people by 2050? Only if we embrace the principles of open innovation, says Jeff Bellairs, senior director of the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN), in this exclusive article for and

On October 31, 2012, the earth’s population reached 7 billion. In the next 28 years, it’s projected we will add another 2 billion inhabitants, bringing our global population to 9 billion.

Demographers suggest the growth will occur mostly in large, urban areas and will be skewed toward less developed countries. Additionally, longer lifespans will result in a significantly larger population of senior citizens. These factors considered, our planet in 2050 could be characterized as crowded, urban and old.

By 2050, our planet will be crowded, urban and old...


These significant demographic changes will increasingly challenge our already constrained natural resources as more and more people seek access to water, arable land and energy.  To keep pace with the world’s rapidly changing population, it is critical that global food companies look outside their own walls and collaborate more than ever before. 

We will need big solutions that bring together the best from disparate academic disciplines in novel, unanticipated ways to address these issues and opportunities. Open innovation is one of the ways we can more systematically architect the connections between our global needs and the bits and pieces of technology that will ultimately provide a solution.

Getting more innovative products to market more quickly

General Mills already embraces open innovation; in fact, in 2007 we formally adopted our approach to innovation with the launch of the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN)​.

Simply, this means we believe there are innovation partners outside our walls who have the expertise and capabilities to help us more effectively meet the needs of our consumers. 

For General Mills, open innovation helps us deliver bigger innovations to the market place more quickly. For our planet, open innovation may be one of the key drivers to assure there will be an adequate quantity of safe and healthy foods to sustain its people.

We will need big solutions that bring together the best from disparate academic disciplines in novel, unanticipated ways

open-innovation-istock-Dmitriy Shironosov

From a business performance stand point, companies will only succeed if they’re responsive to change – and are able to respond quickly.  Open innovation can help maintain the competitive edge and assure survival, especially when companies tap external partnerships to launch new products, solve complex technical problems and pioneer new business models.

Equally important, open innovation may be able to help us address tough challenges such as those related to sustainable agriculture and food waste.  To ensure there is enough food for a hungry world, food companies will play an increasingly important role in stewarding responsible and efficient land and water use. This can best be done by collaborating with partners outside of their own walls.

The challenge of food security

General Mills is pioneering this approach as we look to offer new solutions to the challenge of food security in the coming years. One example of how we’re doing this is through Field to Market, The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture​.

General Mills is leading a pilot program with wheat growers in Idaho that teaches them how their on-farm decisions impact factors such as carbon emissions, soil loss, yield efficiency, water use and energy use.

In an effort to help improve food security in the developing world, we’ve formed a non-profit collaboration with Cargill and DSM called Partners in Food Solutions​, which allows us to share our technical and business expertise with small- and medium-sized mills and food processors in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia to help them produce high-quality, nutritious and safe food at affordable prices, while also increasing demand for the crops of small farms that supply those businesses.

Reducing food waste


Reducing food waste is another critical component to addressing global food security. Earlier this year, General Mills led the “Great Corn Rescue,”​ a first-of-its-kind agricultural surplus initiative in Minnesota.

Bringing together partners including Cargill, SuperValu, Seneca Foods and non-profit Second Harvest Heartland, the initiative helped rescue 600,000 pounds of sweet corn and transform it into 465,000 meals eaten by people in 10 states. It is hoped the pilot program can be replicated by others in the widespread battle against hunger and food waste.

In the fight against food waste, we also have the honor of co-chairing the work of the Food Waste Reduction Alliance​, a partnership between the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, The Food Marketing Institute, the National Restaurant Association and many member companies.

Through this work, we will better understand why nearly 80 billion pounds of food are sent to landfills each year in the U.S., while one in six Americans, and one in three children, go hungry on any given day. The goals of the Alliance are to reduce the amount of food going to landfills and increase the amount of food going to hungry people.

Innovate, collaborate or die

Big-globe-istockLes Cunliffe

W. Edwards Deming is credited with saying, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.​” 

As we rapidly enter this era of unprecedented challenge and change, it’s worth considering how more effective collaboration through open innovation can help assure our survival as individuals, companies and a global community.

Jeff Bellairs will be speaking at the Food Vision​ event in Cannes in March 20-22, which is organized by the publisher of Foodnavigator-USA.

Click here​ for details of the program.

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