Co-ops are targeting creative thinkers among customers and outsiders

A recent study by the Vienna University of Economics and Business found that new product ideas generated by customers are more successful than products developed by companies’ in-house designers. The...

A recent study by the Vienna University of Economics and Business found that new product ideas generated by customers are more successful than products developed by companies’ in-house designers. The report claims ideas generated by communities of users tend to boost sales and be more user-friendly. Retailers are looking at attracting ideas from creative thinkers and co-ops are among them.

Last month a major player in the Canadian dairy industry, Agropur Co-operative, announced the launch of Inno Challenge, an initiative to create new dairy products. The co-op is partnering with the Quartier de l’innovation of Montréal, an innovation platform as well as AgBioCentre, an economic development centre in Quebec, and NineSigma, which connects companies with the global innovation community.

With this project, Agropur is looking at creating new products through open innovation. While new business development processes and marketing of new products tends to take place within a company, open innovation is keen to attract knowledge from outside the research laboratories of large companies. Another key principle behind open innovation is that companies do not have to originate research to profit from it. The main objective is, in this case, to make the best use of both internal and external ideas.

Agropur’s project is themed ‘Together, Let’s Reinvent Dairy’ and targets creative thinkers from Canada and abroad in an effort to promote open innovation. They have until December 2016 to submit their proposals for innovative dairy products.

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Commenting on the new initiative, Agropur’s chief executive, Robert Coallier, said: “In launching this call, Agropur is reaffirming its leadership as an innovator in its sector and opening the doors to co-development. We want to tap into the collective intelligence out there to help us stay at the cutting edge of dairy production and processing. This challenge will give creative types around the world an opportunity to make a meaningful, concrete contribution to the development of new products and innovative solutions.”

Up to four projects will receive a cash grant of up to CAD $25,000 and gain access to Agropur’s research and development capabilities. Agropur will then work with them to co-develop the concepts, bringing them to the prototype stage.

“This project also draws on Montreal’s creative ecosystem: the Quartier de l’innovation is a partner in the Challenge and will host the participants,” added Mr Coallier.

Damien Silès, executive director of the Quartier de l’innovation, said: “Innovation does not only occur in the realm of technology, as evidenced by this initiative, which will shed light on the many evolving paradigm shifts in a sector such as agrifood. The development of new dairy products together with Agropur, here in the heart of the Quartier de l’innovation, will undoubtedly establish Montreal as a key player in this constantly changing industry.” The results of the challenge will be presented at Agropur’s Inno Expo in April 2017.

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Earlier this year, another Canadian mutual, Desjardins Group, launched an innovation lab. The country’s leading co-operative financial group is collaborating with Hacking Health, a non-profit organisation that pairs innovators with healthcare experts and InnoCité MLT, Montreal’s smart city accelerator.

The lab works on developing, testing and analysing applications and new technologies using a collaborative approach between members and clients, who are asked to work with Desjardins, on-site and online, to help design products and services.

As part of the project, Desjardins runs Cooperathon, a co-operative marathon, which focuses on collaboration between project teammates, and with external actors such as public institutions, universities, companies and committed citizens.

The 2017 event took place over four weeks in October and November. Over 70 innovative ideas were submitted, of which Desjardins selected 15 finalists who appeared before a jury on 4 November.

“The Cooperathon is perfectly in line with Desjardins’s mission,” said managing vice-president of Strategy and Innovation Office, Martin Brunelle. “In a context of co-creation, the Cooperathon successfully combines innovation with cooperation. Bringing together all these experts can result in the creation of many solutions that could eventually make a difference in people’s lives and in community development.”

The Grand Prize winning team received $6,000 and support and access to various tools to develop an application to ensure optimum monitoring of patients with heart problems.

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Waitrose, one of the supermarkets using crowd-sourcing for product development

In the UK, employee-owned Waitrose has also been using crowd-sourcing with customers to develop new products. Crowd-surcing competitions enable enterprises to acquire solutions to specific problems or generate new product ideas in a cost-effective manner.

Back in 2011 Waitrose unveiled its first customer-created product, called Seriously Chocolatey Rose-Infused Chocolate Ganache. A London based customer, who submitted a recipe through an online initiative run by MyWaitrose members club, created the pudding. The winning customer received a check of £1,000. The packaging also included a quote from the creator.

More recently the retailer has launched Waitrose Hot Ideas, an incubator programme set up to identify and develop technological innovations and work collaboratively with customers through the early stages of product development.

Cheryl Millington, Waitrose IT director explains on the co-op’s website that technology is changing the way customers shop at Waitrose and how in turn the retailer aims to be at the forefront of market-leading technology and innovation. The ‘Waitrose Hot Ideas‘ programme creates a culture in which we are able to push the boundaries, working with our Partners and customers to find convenient and time-saving shopping solutions,” he said.

A 2015 survey by Accenture found that of 1,000 large companies and 1,000 entrepreneurs 50% of large companies believe they need to work with entrepreneurs to be sufficiently innovative. However, the report goes on to argue that a successful ecosystem and innovation requires coordinated efforts among governments, start-ups and large enterprises as well as organisations which can connect the different participants. Some co-operatives are already leading the way by engaging costumers as well as outsiders in the process of developing services or products. Will others follow?

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