European Food Visions

Fragmentation, regulation, recession: Breaking Europe’s innovation breakdown

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Innovation

Peter Wennstrom
Peter Wennstrom
The Swedish government is backing a project to tackle what the partners say is a European food industry innovation blockade that has infiltrated the biggest companies at the very highest levels.

The recession is driving food businesses to cost-cutting measures as manifested by the horse meat scandal and blinkering companies to the potential rewards of investment in genuine disruptive innovation, says project leader, Peter Wennstrom, the president of the Healthy Marketing Team.

Over-regulation and the fragmented nature of a multi-lingual, multi-cultural Europe intensified the problem.

”Companies have no shortage of ideas, but culture eats strategy for breakfast,” ​Wennstrom told Food Vision 2013​ delegates in Cannes, France, last week in a presentation called ’Digest Innovation’ that drew on management theorist Peter Drucker’s famous axiom.

Breaking 'Excelthink'

”This applies both within individual firms and between firms and other actors such as scientists and entrepreneurs,” ​Wennstrom said.

”The different cultures have different agendas and also various definitions of key terms. This means that the innovation process is limping.”

”All these cultures have something to offer, but they tend to guard their own approach and it requires a very strong, focused and competent management to see possibilities and break old habits. Today, unfortunately too many companies are caught in Excel sheets. It breeds no new successful products.”

Digest Innovation

The Healthy Marketing Team and the Swedish Food Innovation Network (SFIN) developed the Digest Innovation project, for which they received a grant from the Swedish Government's Innovation Agency Vinnova.

That grant has funded the development and refinement of a culture-busting model and now the project is set to move into another phase where Swedish food companies become involved and the, ”tools and methods are applied to real-life projects and problems”.

Wennstrom said while the SFIN project was limited to Swedish companies, the Digest Innovation model could be applied to any firm seeking to raise its innovation game.

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Mass attack

A broader post-industrialisation, decentralisation trend could not be ignored, Wennstrom told us, with consumers wielding ever-more influence over the means of production.

”Look at the energy sector – where more and more people are both producers and consumers of energy​. New paradigms are being created. Mass production is over, mass distribution is over, mass media is over. If you look at the most interesting start-ups they are involved in these new systems of production.”

At Food Vision, Wennstrom used interactive attendee polling to the question:"Does your organisation have a clear understanding of its innovation space​?"  Only 47% said yes.

"You do not turn these ships overnight, but we want to give them the tools they need to strengthen their long term innovative ability and remain competitive," ​he added.

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