2020 was again a year of rapidly-changing consumer preferences and advances in technology, intensified by a global pandemic, the resulting economic downturn and increasing environmental concerns. In this context, our ability to develop consumer-centric innovations with speed-to-market enables us to differentiate ourselves and to delight our consumers.
Whether we are talking delicious plant-based foods, innovative coffee products, environmentally-friendly packaging or breakthrough nutritional concepts – we are delivering innovations that fulfill consumer needs and desires.
We are constantly looking for new ways to increase our speed and efficiency to bring products to the market faster. We are focused on consumer trends, while reducing our environmental impact and making good nutrition accessible and affordable to those in need. To complement our internal capabilities, we collaborate with external partners.
Developing science-based nutritional solutions
Providing nutritional products that support and maintain health requires continuous, rigorous research. We provide science-based solutions in areas such as nutrition, gastrointestinal health, metabolic health, brain health and healthy aging across all stages of life. Our work enables us to meet the unique needs of mothers, infants, children, adults, the elderly as well as pets. We are also exploring personalized nutritional products that focus on individuals as well as groups of people defined by age, gender or specific health conditions. Our research on the gut microbiome helps us to understand its impact on human and pet health, and enables us to find nutritional solutions that can support healthy digestion, an effective immune system and general well-being. And our work in the area of cell function has led to new, innovative products, such as Celltrient, that support healthy aging.
Acting on sustainability across the value chain
We are embedding sustainability more fundamentally into the way we innovate. We discover and apply science-based solutions in every step of the value chain and in every phase of a product's lifecycle – from product recipe, ingredients, sourcing and manufacturing to packaging or packaging-free delivery.
To address the issue of packaging waste, our global R&D network and our Institute of Packaging Sciences are developing refillable or reusable solutions, simplified packaging, high-performance barrier papers, biodegradable or compostable packaging materials, while increasing the use of recycled content in Nestlé's packaging. We collaborate closely with leading global research institutions, start-ups, and suppliers. In 2020, we further expanded our use of recyclable paper packaging and recycled content across our portfolio, and piloted several new refillable and reusable systems.
We invest in plant science to understand the biology of coffee, for example, to develop drought- and disease-resistant varieties. For this, we use traditional propagation methods that are free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and local coffee varieties. Through our research, we even rediscovered the first coffee varieties ever cultivated and revived them in our Nespresso special editions.
Making good nutrition more affordable
Everyone should have access to affordable, safe and high-quality nutrition. Unfortunately, this is a challenge for the millions of people globally who live in poverty, a problem that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our work to make nutritious products more affordable and to fortify them with locally-relevant micronutrients is critical. To develop more affordable products, we are innovating by adjusting processes and recipes, using local raw materials as well as affordable, high-quality, protein sources.
Bringing breakthrough innovations to market faster
To increase our speed and efficiency to bring products to market faster, we have continued to roll out our acceleration initiatives, increasing the number of fast-track projects and test-and-learns as well as expanding the R&D Accelerator program.
Despite the pandemic, we continued to drive rapid innovation. We adapted quickly to the new situation – for example by connecting with factories and suppliers worldwide through the use of remote assistance and augmented reality. Under challenging circumstances, we were still able to:
- Deliver 23% more global/multi-market launches versus 2019.
- Decrease the time it takes to bring innovations to market by 10% for top priority launches.
- Fund 32 fast-track projects, in which R&D staff can pitch novel ideas that are then evaluated and approved by the R&D leadership team.
Applying our expertise across categories
Delivering our innovations quickly and scaling them up across brands, categories and geographies, is a key competitive advantage. We take a cross-category approach when translating scientific discoveries into innovations and leveraging new technologies. For example, our proprietary technologies in plant proteins have led to the launch of plant-based meat, fish and dairy alternatives across categories, offering consumers a wide range of healthy, more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Where possible, we leverage synergies between human and pet health for the development of science-based nutrition concepts.
Connecting with start-ups and students
Our unique open innovation approach combines disruptive ideas with sound R&D expertise and a flexible test-and-learn model. We work with startups, students and other partners, to strengthen entrepreneurship and shape innovation.
Our network of R&D Accelerators brings employees, startups and students together to work on a specific project for six months. They can fully leverage Nestlé's R&D expertise, shared labs, kitchens and production equipment, helping them to develop and test novel innovations in real market conditions. Our R&D Accelerator in Lausanne, Switzerland, focuses on cross-category innovation, whereas our newly unveiled R&D Accelerator in Konolfingen, Switzerland, concentrates on sustainable dairy products and plant-based alternatives to dairy. We also launched Unleashed, an accelerator program for pet care that gives start-ups access to our pet health and nutrition expertise as well as proof-of-concept funding and access to established commercial networks. We are currently expanding the R&D Accelerator initiative across many categories and geographies including at our R&D centers in India and Côte d'Ivoire.
In addition to our R&D Accelerator, we collaborate with a number of world-class academic institutions and other partners to further the research and innovation in key areas.
Supporting future innovators
We collaborate with universities and students in many regions of the world. Students can embark on PhD or Master's internships in our R&D centers globally, enabling them to translate their research into real-life solutions, while developing their practical skills in state-of-the-art facilities. In our R&D facilities in Switzerland, we currently have around 50 students completing internships on various topics. We believe this is how we can foster local innovation and support future innovators. For example, we have an agreement with the University of Ghana to enhance nutrition and sustainability research. We support the European Master in Food Studies program led by Wageningen University & Research, Netherlands. We are also co-founders of the Future Food Initiative, a joint research program between Swiss universities and industrial partners. The initiative includes a postdoctoral fellowship program for qualified young researchers working on projects targeting future food issues such as nutrition, production, packaging and digital health.