With plant-based foods appealing to a broader audience than ever before, the expectations for new products are continuing to rise. Consumers are demanding options that are as delicious and nutritious as traditional products. “How do we bridge this gap?” asked Antony J I X, PhD, Vice President of Innovation at Olam Food Ingredients (OFI). His answer was simple, “[This] is where collaboration comes into the picture.”
Back in October, we hosted the first of our Plant-Based Pro Series™ webinars, bringing together experts from across the industry to discuss the increasingly vital role that collaboration plays in the development of winning plant-based products.
All of our panellists agreed that building and fostering strong relationships with your suppliers and research partners is key to flourishing in this dynamic and changing landscape.
As panellist René Floris, Food Division Manager at NIZO, put it, “I have seen a big change in the last 20 years.” He continued by explaining how, with the explosion of demand for plant-based products, more and more companies are looking outward to bring the vast knowledge of their partners into their own labs.
Looking forward, the question becomes, what does that look like from a developer’s perspective? What is the recipe for successful collaboration?
The four key ingredients for successful plant-based collaboration we all agreed on were the following:
- Defining Success
- The Human Factor
So, let’s dig into each so you can have a clearer view on how they contribute to successful collaboration, according to top plant-based experts from across the space.
1. Defining Success: Building on Accountability & Responsibility
When entering into a collaborative partnership, as panellist Dan Kennedy, Director of Platform and Business Development for Plant-Based Protein from Ingredion, stated, “Accountability and Responsibility are key, number one.”
These two points really set the foundation not only for the project but for the overall success of the partnership going forward.
To do this, Kenedy stressed that it’s essential to be clear on what the goal is from the beginning. In other words, “You have to ask, ‘What does success look like? Then you walk it back from there.”
He went on to say, “it’s a holistic system. You certainly don’t look at a car and think, ‘I’m going to develop the best door for a car,’ you have to consider the whole system.”
This ‘whole system’ approach is only made possible by establishing a common goal and clear definition of success.
Only once those are established can the roles and responsibilities of each partner be determined and, in turn, expectations set to hold each other accountable. This focuses the project and brings the best out of each other.
Barb Stuckey, Chief Innovation & Marketing Officer from Mattson Co., championed how this focus also allows you to work simultaneously on parallel paths, increasing the speed and efficiency of a project.
In other words, when success and roles for a project are clearly defined, it opens up the opportunity for collaborators to easily switch between working autonomously or in tandem, drastically shortening the time it takes to get a product to market.
However, this can only be achieved if the next ingredient is also present from the start.
Like all relationships, honest communication between collaborators is required for sustainable success.
Even when you are united on what success looks like, there are bound to be bumps in the road. Our moderator and Edlong CCO, Denise Senter, put it best when she said, “You need to lose the fear of failure. We need to recognise that if one fails, we all feel the pain in the process, but we need to be honest about it and transparent so we can move forward.”
Kennedy echoed these feelings adding, “Being able to say it’s not working, shifting course, being able to pivot, and having agility really is key.”
All in all, our panel believed that this level of honesty was a necessity to truly get the most out of your partners. Without it, you can end up causing friction in the project and maybe even worse in the partnership.
Additionally, transparency also creates the best conditions for trust.
Although officially, you partner with other firms, each company at its base level is made up of individuals. It is at this personal level that the seeds for trust are planted.
Floris summarised, “The key to it all is trust. [But] trust is not a contract; it is something that people have.”
You know your company is built up of people that you can rely on and that share in your values, so it only makes sense to connect with partners that build theirs the same way.
Niall Sands, President of Plant-based Foods at AAK, supported this with the statement, “you need to recruit your partners the same way you recruit your people.” Explaining it further, he said, “Having that sort of value and behaviour alignment between organisations to collaborate truly is fundamental and is underpinned by trust and transparency.”
Our panellists made it clear: firms that can nurture a companywide culture of trust from the bottom up put them and their partners at a collaborative advantage. This is what is moving innovation in the space forward.
But it has to start with each individual contact, which is made easier by adding in the final ingredient.
4. The Human Factor
When the world slowed down due to the pandemic, we saw just how powerful & crucial communication technology has become. Even though this was the lifeline many companies needed to keep running, it made one thing clear: there is no replacement for human connection.
I know that for me, personally, being able to finally meet collaborators face-to-face that I had only known through the screen has been a game changer.
Stuckey enthusiastically agreed with this, “There is nothing like standing side by side, tasting the same product together, cooking the product together.” She detailed how they are eager to send their developers to go out and work with their suppliers in person. Most importantly, she explained that it allows partners to react to each other and the product in ways that will help them better understand the final customer.
To add to that, Denise focused on how it can drastically shorten development times, “Things that have taken weeks can take [only] a day or two when you are shoulder to shoulder.”
Like any recipe or formulation, it takes each ingredient working together and playing off each other to make it work. Finding success with plant-based collaboration is no different. Honestly, if you don’t have just one of these key ingredients, it is hard to have any.
Hungry for more? Watch the full recording of our webinar on How Collaboration Will Facilitate the Future of Plant-based Food Innovation to learn more from our panel of esteemed plant-based industry experts on this topic. Also, make sure to sign-up for the rest of our Plant-based Pro Series!
Ready to collaborate? Our team is here to support your plant-based food innovation and product development projects. Request a consultation with one of Edlong’s global R&D experts or with any of our partners from the panel. We’ll make sure to reach out for a quick discovery call after you submit your request below to ensure we bring the right partners to the table for your innovation consultation.