By Mark Brodeur, Vice President of Digital Innovation at Nestlé
How Nestlé’s Silicon Valley Innovation Outpost (SVIO) is accelerating digitally-powered innovation globally while helping to future-proof Nestlé and strengthen our position in the market.
Walt Disney famously said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” He may as well have been talking about the transformative power of technology to usher in new possibilities or unlock new solutions. Disney’s aphorism could also be the unofficial anthem of the startup world in which a culture of imagination meets sheer determination – where anything is possible.
This is the mood of contagious optimism, which you can’t help but feel when you’re surrounded by innovators of all kinds. By embedding Nestlé’s global digital innovation team in the heart of Silicon Valley – one of the world’s most important centers of innovation and technology disruption – we stay plugged into the latest trends and technologies and spark innovation within Nestlé and its portfolio of over 2,000 brands. Our team members are immersed in Silicon Valley culture, engaging with entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists and thought leaders on a daily basis. They stay close to the latest consumer trends by testing the newest apps, shopping for up-and-coming brands or even dining at new tech-enabled restaurants.
In the six years since we launched Nestlé’s Silicon Valley Innovation Outpost (SVIO), our diverse and multi-cultural team of 20 commercial and technology experts have served as an innovation catalyst for Nestlé, helping change the way the company engages and collaborates with startups and addresses consumers’ evolving needs. Our team has developed and tested over 40 novel and high-potential digital solutions and business models in partnership with innovators and Nestlé colleagues all over the world.
Our digital innovation model
However, our work at the SVIO amounts to much more than just embracing the disruptive technology developed here in Silicon Valley. We have built a three-step digital innovation model that makes it easier for Nestlé to grow and evolve, take more risks, and ultimately win over consumers. The three steps are:
One: collaborate with consumers to redefine what’s possible
Our goal is to harness the power of technology to help Nestlé enhance the lives of people and pets. Our customers and their needs are the starting point for everything we do, and we believe technology is here to serve them. That’s why we always look to the consumer for inspiration to help us identify meaningful opportunities and validate new concepts. This is true for infant nutrition, pet care, coffee, water, and all other categories that we serve.
Two: develop and nurture strategic partnerships
At Nestlé, we have built deep expertise in the food and nutrition space over our 150-plus year history. However, our experience in digital technology, while growing, is more limited. Therefore, in order to be successful, we seek out partnerships with the best and brightest entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond to help us create digital experiences and new business models. For example, we recently applied digital imaging and machine learning technology to monitor ice cream freezers, letting stores know, up to the minute, how much ice cream is in a freezer and when to order more. We are currently piloting this solution in a variety of store formats and working with a large telecommunications partner to bring the project to life on a much larger scale.
We also collaborate closely with a diverse group of startups around the world. For example, we teamed up with London-based Zappar to develop an augmented-reality sales experience, which our teams use when selling office beverage systems – making it easier for customers to explore the machines before purchasing.
Three: test, iterate and repeat
Speed and experimentation are important elements in our digital innovation process. We focus on bringing numerous early stage prototypes to small groups of consumers simultaneously to identify which concepts resonate and why. This early-stage feedback allows us to continuously refine our prototypes, and develop meaningful solutions more effectively. Our goal in this phase is not to develop a perfect product, but rather to quickly assess its potential.
We use a rapid prototyping model to launch projects within 3-4 months in order to get results quickly. For example, we recently developed and tested a new personalized nutrition service that can help consumers identify their unique nutritional needs. By launching the solution in a beta version early on, we were able to gather important feedback about what features consumers really wanted and developed significant insights into personalized nutrition. Within the four-month testing phase, our prototype evolved into a holistic wellness solution, which included one-on-one coaching and customized recipe solutions. By directly engaging with consumers, we shortened the product launch cycle by half and received valuable real time feedback to inform the next iteration of the service.
Digital technology is one of the most powerful drivers of change in the world today. At Nestlé, we remain committed to partnering with those at the forefront of this change, so that together we can continue enhancing the lives of consumers and answering that ever-pressing question: “What’s next?”
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