Innovate With Kraft. Stephen Interviews Kraft Vice President of Open Innovation and Investment, Steve Goers

I’ve written about open innovation, the idea that companies cannot and should not rely solely on their own research department and the practice of seeking and accepting outside ideas, numerous times. But I want to prove that open innovation is alive and strong, contradictory to what some people believe. I recently interviewed Steve Goers, Vice President of Open Innovation and Investment Strategy at Kraft Foods, to learn about the ways Kraft has implemented open innovation into its company.

I first asked Goers about the “Innovate with Kraft” program. Was it new? Or a way of formalizing a process that was already occurring?

“Recently, Kraft has made a more focused and organized effort to step up our open innovation activities. External partnering, or open sourcing of innovation, is not really new at Kraft, but now we’re more focused and have better integrated it into our business.  We’re complementing our traditional R&D while now actively looking for external partners. I would characterize this as an evolution as opposed to a revolution,” explained Goers.

Kraft has placed members of it’s R&D team, or “technical scouts”, in each of its business units. These employees focus on driving open innovation activities in each unit. 

Kraft seeks and accepts a diverse range of product ideas. 

“Innovation can apply to products, processes, packaging, ingredients, and more.  The best place to find what we’re looking for today is to visit our open innovation portal:  It’s one of our new capabilities designed to capture unsolicited innovations. We’ve recently refreshed the website so it now provides more information on needs that we are looking for and examples of recent product launches.”

Goers argued that one significant difference between accepted submissions and those that are not is what he calls the “reason to believe”. 

“My advice to innovators is to give your potential partners a great “reason to believe.”  Make sure to do a great job explaining how your innovation will benefit the partner.   Maintain your passion and help set clear expectations on the relationship you are looking for.”

However, the Goers did state that Kraft “encourages” inventors to submit products that already have protection. How strong is this encouragement? Is it a necessity? If you’ve read my posts, you know that I don’t believe getting a patent is the most necessary nor the most advisable route to take before you know that your idea is desirable and sought after!

However, Goers did sum up the advantages of such a partnership quite neatly. 

“Open Innovation is good for Kraft and good for the partner.  Partnering with Kraft means access to our brands, technology, marketing expertise and distribution channels to bring scale.  We can help smaller companies or entrepreneurs take a great innovation and make it bigger and even better.”

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