Christophe Schmitt, Group leader for Protein at Nestlé’s Research Centre shares how the company identifies new innovations and what his hopes for the future are.
In what ways is your organisation involved in plant-based innovation?
At Nestlé we have been doing lots of innovation to support more plant-based diets, from our Garden Gourmet range of meat alternatives which is now the second-largest vegetarian brand in Europe, to the Sweet Earth range in the US, our pea-based milk alternative “Wunda”, and even a plant-based tuna alternative, “Vuna”.
Many of our other brands have also been exploring plant-based ranges and we have a commitment across the business to incorporate more vegetables, fibre-rich grains, pulses, nuts and seeds into our food and beverages. We are constantly iterating and reformulating our products – for example, 80% of Garden Gourmet products are now ‘clean label’ with simplified ingredients lists and there are plans to extend that to the entire range.
For us, this isn’t just about vegetarians or vegans, it is about flexitarians incorporating more plant-based food in a shift towards all of us eating more healthy, sustainable diets.
How do you currently identify and develop innovations, especially related to plant-based diets?
At Nestlé Research, we may get a request for innovation from the business as part of supporting its medium or long-term business plans. Alternatively, we may ourselves identify the potential for an innovation based on the latest scientific or technical insights.
There are two main routes for taking those innovation areas forward. We either work with internal ideas and concept development, or we identify opportunities for collaboratively developing ideas with external partners, such as start-ups or universities, using our recent Global Nestlé R&D Accelerator Initiative which was set up to encourage more open innovation. The best route depends on factors such as the concept’s alignment with our business strategy, the level of maturity (speed to market, complexity of implementation) and the intellectual property potential.
The development then goes through several stages: demonstrating proof of concept using prototypes at kitchen scale, then validation at pilot scale with some market tests for fine-tuning the concept and finally product launch with size depending on the market opportunity (i.e. launching in just one or multiple markets).
What questions or hopes do you have around how innovation approaches may need to change to support a just transition to healthy, sustainable diets?
Affordable nutrition is a huge priority for the business. I see massive potential for us as a business to support more affordable access to healthy, sustainable diets – that go beyond quick fixes like decreasing the product size – but I also have a number of key questions for us moving forward on this agenda:
- How can we identify and test ideas and concepts which could be implementable rapidly and adapted to local needs? For example, we have learned very rapidly that plant-based diets have to look very different in different cultures as both preparation techniques and local tastes vary enormously.
- How can we reduce development costs that are impacting the final price of the product?
- What role is there for products with minimal processing to help bring the cost down while still removing anti-nutritional factors to improve digestibility, and producing convenient products?
- How can we encourage other businesses to support a shift in mainstream chef’s training so that the final dishes remain affordable, while also being delicious and tasty? (Following in the footsteps of the Protein Challenge Future Plates initiative)
To learn more about Forum for the Future’s Action Sprint exploring the role of plant-based food in supporting a just transition to healthy sustainable diets, follow the Live Research page here.