In Denmark, new food trends are popping up like mushrooms. Consumers want climate-friendly, organic food that is locally produced. They want to be informed about calorie-content when they eat in restaurants, and they want ‘homemade’ food – cooked by someone else. These demands are producing a challenging environment for food producers, who often do not focus on developing the most appropriate products. However, change is underway. A new tool, Food Innovator, should help businesses to involve consumers in the development of new products.

We are all users and consumers of food. However, production-based innovation is rarely a response to direct demands from consumers. Without some user input there is a risk that there may not be a market for the products being produced. User-driven innovation, as opposed to production-based innovation, means that it responds directly to the consumer. The consumer is actively involved in the innovation system, which means that product developers can respond to specific ideas and demands.

An innovation tool for the food industry

Food Innovator is a new tool that focuses on user-driven innovation. The project objective is to develop an innovation tool for the food industry that will allow the consumer to be involved in product development, thereby increasing efficiency and profitability in the industry through the creation of products that the consumer really wants.

The tool will exploit the insights of so-called first movers, i.e. the 3% of the population that recognize emerging trends and anticipate consumer behaviour by one to two years. Such valuable information will allow food producers to be a step ahead in terms of future demand. Food Innovator is the result of a collaboration between the network organization Øresund Food, and the trend-spotting firm Firstmove.

Maria Olofsdotter and Kirsten PoulsenMaria Olofsdotter, Øresund Food, and Kirsten Poulsen, Firstmove, represent a very creative twosome. Together they have thought a lot about what drives innovation.

-It is curiosity about the un-done – the not yet done. And it is linked to personality, you question what already exists says Kirsten Paulsen.

Innovation is driven by a curiosity for the un-done, the yet-to-be-done

And Maria Olofsdotter continues:

-We believe that it is through the synergies between people that new ideas take shape. You need always to be tuned to new possibilities and opportunities.

Firstmove, which focuses on the “first movers” in society, is involved in consumer projects. Poulsen believes that ‘first movers’ are indicators of trends and tendencies in the rest of the population.

-If you know what the first movers behaviour is today, you will have a reliable view of what the mass market will demand tomorrow. By involving the most innovative consumer, we create a window of opportunity wherein the product can be developed. The mass market’s demand for a new product will be gradual, but over time demand will grow.

What is Food Innovator and what does it do?

Small- and middle-sized companies rarely have the money or time to embark on innovation projects. But it is often within these types of companies that palettes of new ideas and creativity can be found. Food Innovator is a tool that companies can use to generate ideas. It aims to appeal to the market through its inclusion of users/consumers.

The tool will give the companies easy access to new ideas within their own firms and from among their customers. But why is innovation necessary? Kirsten Poulsen describes it as: ‘a dimension of progress that is necessary for our society to survive, grow and improve. It can make things more efficient; it may be service innovation, a new concept or a new product’.

Food experiences

Health is paramount for human society, and there is a natural parallel between the food we consume and how healthy we are. New food trends emerge continuously: we want to eat for strong bones; we want to stay young. There are fashions for consuming only raw ingredients. There is demand for climate-friendly and organic food, for local produce, and for calorie information on restaurant menus. For food that tastes homemade, but which we are not required to make ourselves.

All this puts pressure on food producers. Consumers in the main are not satisfied with the raw materials – they want healthy, tasty, and easy meals whose consumption is an experience. Maria and Kirsten constantly refer to ‘Experience, sensation, stimulation from food’.

-The taste, sensations and stimuli derived from eating promotes thinking outside the box, produces cravings, awakens curiosity’, says Maria Olofsdotter.

A collaborative innovation effort

Øresund Food and Firstmove have joined forces with several other partners in developing the many facets of Food Innovator, drawing on the knowledge and knowhow of companies with expertise in different fields. Its partners include Kvistgaard Consulting, which specializes in developing dimensions of experiences, Innovisor, which is involved in completes development and transformation projects, and Viventes, which operates a network of small innovative companies and thereby has a firm grip on many of the companies for which First Innovator is aimed at.

Stryhn’s, Dragsbæk and Lantmännen are all companies participating in the project and will ensure that the new tool will be useful for other interested food companies. These three companies are testing it on their customers.

The Food Innovator tool is being developed through a combination of meetings among partners, and workshops involving firstmover consumers and experts in food, innovation, experience, management and other creative areas. Work on the tool is in progress: Øresund Food and Firstmove aim to have a pilot ready for testing in spring 2010.

Food Innovator is financed by the Danish Enterprise and Construction Authorities programme for user-driven innovation. The food industry participating companies have also made contributions.

About Øresund Food and Firstmove

Øresund Food is a network organization which focuses on food, knowledge and innovation. It has connections with academia, and aims to bridge between universities, industry and the public authorities. One of Øresund Food’s key competences is its broad and unique food knowledge and research insights.

Firstmove works with strategy and business development on trend-based, user-driven innovation. It specializes in consumer research and has demonstrated outstanding market insights into future consumer behaviour. Its employees have good knowledge about food, and the company develops its own innovation tools. As the name Firstmove implies, the company has specialized in the 3% of the population that are characterized as ‘first movers’.