As Chief Strategy Officer at Nestlé USA, I’m often asked how Nestlé builds the culture of innovation that has been recognized among Fast Company’s Best Workplace for Innovators in 2020 and 2021, as well as a Best Workplace for Innovators in Sustainability in 2022.
The answer people expect to hear is that we’ve developed new technologies or installed vast structural changes to the ways we work every day – and those things play their part. But they’re not the key to innovation at Nestlé. The key is our people.
Innovation happens when we give our people the permission to imagine new and innovative products, the resources to explore their big ideas, and the space to activate change and learn what works and what doesn’t. At Nestle, we’re intentional about creating an innovative culture and recognizing the value of trying, and failing, and then trying again.
Food tastes evolve rapidly. With a culture built around the creativity of our employees, we move right alongside it. Here’s a closer look at how we’re keeping pace.
Permission to Imagine
Every employee at Nestlé USA is empowered to ask the question “What if...?”
To encourage this, our New Business Ventures team partners with teams across the business to encourage What if... projects, lending their expertise on early-stage industry trends to test new products and business models that appeal to the evolving tastes of consumers.
This partnership is already helping us reach consumers in new ways. As more Americans embrace buying from digital platforms and direct-to-consumer products, the New Business Ventures team worked with brand teams who were asking the question: what if we could deliver directly to people’s homes? Nestlé brands like Nespresso and Freshly already have strong direct-to-consumer platforms, so we knew we had the capability to make this happen.
Resources to Explore
Nestlé USA is a company made up of 30,000 foodies – all of us are consumers ourselves. Listen in on any conversation, and you’ll find our employees talking passionately about their favorite foods, the specific way they like their coffee, or which brand has become their new go-to this week. You’ll also hear them talking about what’s missing from grocery store shelves – the thing they wish was more convenient, more sustainable, or just a little tastier.
We launched Open Channel to give employees the resources to explore these ideas. Open Channel is a crowd-sourcing initiative that taps into our collective creativity – a platform that allows employees to submit big ideas or vote on ideas they like the most.
To date, 9000 employees have submitted concepts and we’ve launched 23 innovative products, including Stouffer’s Mac and Cheese bites and ready-to-eat Toll House brownies. We’ve also launched new cultural programs, like our internal Talent Marketplace platform, an AI-based system that matches employees' skillsets with projects outside their function.
With access to resources like Open Channel, anyone in any role can become a creator and an innovator.
Space to Activate
Sometimes, innovations fail. This must be an accepted part of innovation – while we don’t want to pour endless resources into ideas that never take off, we do need to understand that failure is an essential part of learning.
One of our programs that embodies this mindset is Nestlé’s global R+D Accelerator. The accelerator is a unique platform where start-ups, students, and Nestlé intrapreneurs focus on emerging trends to develop product concepts in a six-month immersive 'idea to shop' program. Those who are part of this accelerator have access to our state-of-the-art infrastructure and unmatched science, technology, and business expertise.
The accelerator allows participants to move quickly – taking ideas from conception to execution over a short timeline, giving us insight on consumer readiness and adoption. In other words, they experiment fast, fail fast, and learn fast, using this experimentation to shape food & beverage for the future. It’s thanks to this culture that we’ve begun testing emerging technologies to develop animal-free dairy protein-based products, to meet our consumers’ desire to adopt nutritious, environmentally friendly diets.
This culture carries over into the rest of the business, acting as a test space for how we drive innovation across Nestlé USA.
I’m deeply proud of the people who make Nestlé USA an innovative company.
With the right culture in place, we’re building the capability to continue leading innovations in food far into the future.