Kraft: the “$40 Billion Start-Up” Spurs Innovation

Point: Open innovation can accelerate new product development

Story: When Irene Rosenfeld took over as CEO of Kraft, she saw an anemic innovation pipeline. IrenePhotoThe company had 2000 corporate R&D staff — scientists, engineers and chemists — but new products weren’t flowing rapidly enough.   Her solution to encourage innovation?  To get everyone to “Think of Kraft as a $40 billion start-up,” she said at the World Business Forum on October 7, 2009.  One way to emulate start-up thinking is to be open to new ideas from anywhere and quickly turn them into something valuable. Kraft reached out beyond its corporate R&D to enlist the help of employees across the whole company, as well as suppliers and partners, to spur innovation.

For example, Kraft runs an online “Innovate with Kraft” program whereby anyone can submit product ideas.  Although skeptics call such programs gimmicks or fads, Rosenfeld maintains that they’re not gimmicks if the programs and the ideas generated from them are being used.

Kraft’s recent new product introduction, Bagel-fuls (frozen bagels pre-filled with Philadelphia brand Cream Cheese), for example, came from an unsolicited idea from a third-generation bagel maker in a niche market. The idea was a win-win for both companies: it solved some technical challenges that Kraft had faced in delivering a bagel and cheese combo, and it expanded the bagel-makers product beyond his niche.

Rosenfeld also mentioned the value of platform-based innovation (ideas that span multiple brands and geographies) in the innovation process.  Now, “Our innovation pipeline is quite full,” Rosenfeld remarked, with new products coming out in four core areas: Snacking, Quick Meals, Premium and Health & Wellness.


  • Look for ideas in the corners: reach out to employees and suppliers, especially niche people, to uncover obscure ideas that merit more widespread use
  • Celebrate the use of submitted ideas to show the value of participation in innovation submission programs.

For more information:
Irene Rosenfeld at the World Business Forum on Oct 6, 2009 #wbf09

Staggs, Sandy. Foster Innovation at Kraft Foods, Oct 27, 2008.

New York Times, Sept. 9, 2009

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