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How do you recognize "true" innovation, and who practices it? I recently noted that a leading hamburger chain received an industry "innovation award" for its retooled hamburger sandwich. This is a glaring example of how most people are clueless about what true innovation is – and the rush to label new food products as "innovative."

It has been trendy throughout the past five years for large food companies to rename their R&D centers as "Innovation Centers." I remember when they were called "Support Centers," and before that they were simply called Research & Development Centers – and possibly even named after a long time innovation leader that retired from the company after 30 years of service with 15 food patents. In fact, I just visited one of these Innovation Centers with Johnson and Wales students this past week. I can respect the innovation center name, if I can see the proof in the bread. When compared to key KPI food innovation metrics, I see few substantive and tangible product examples.

The epicenter of food innovation

However, there is one city and organization that understands and practices "true innovation" day-in and day-out, 52 weeks out of the year ... and that is Naturally Boulder Products in Boulder, Colo. Yes, Boulder, Colo., has been and will continue to be an epicenter of food innovation. It would serve food companies well to pass on nationwide city restaurant tours for benchmarking new food products for one year, and hang out in Boulder, meeting the people who place their life savings on the line developing new innovative products every day. What the innovative entrepreneurs have that most food companies DO NOT is simply the "culture of food innovation."

Not only is Boulder, the epicenter of U.S. food innovation, it has been and continues to be the epicenter of international food innovation. Boulder has become home to Whole Foods, Alfalfas, Sprouts, etc. The culture of food innovation is promoted through a local organization called Naturally Boulder Products (www.naturallybouldrproducts.com). This organization has become a true food innovation resource center for adventuresome entrepreneurs.

Naturally Boulder Products Organization

Naturally Boulder Products contributes to the food innovation culture in the following ways. First, it sponsors natural and organic Education Workshops attended by as many as 50 people at a sitting. The organization itself has approximately 400 members. Each workshop is designed to equip the participants with industry knowledge and expertise to develop, manufacture, package and market their innovative new ideas.

Second, they provide "new product pitch presentations" to proven industry executives with their own innovation track record. Each participant is competing for approximately $15,000 to kick start their new business. Not only is the award growing exponentially each year, but approximately 25 people pitch their new products on a yearly basis – and you can only present new ideas every other year.

Third, they sponsor monthly get-acquainted meetings at a local restaurant. Fourth, they sponsor a yearly awards dinner attended by over 400 people. And Fifth, the University of Colorado provides expert advice on building a new business through its MBA program and MBA graduate students.

The recent 6th annual Spring Education Series (one day) includes speakers on competitive product differentiation, preserving intellectual property rights, business partnerships advice, food safety legal issues, public relations and social media marketing, and broker and distributor networks.

So spend some time in Boulder the next time you visit Colorado, and experience the culture of "true food innovation."

Please contact me at dsuderman@foodbevbiz.com or follow the Food Innovation Institute website (www.foodbevbiz.com) for information on two three Food Innovation 3-day workshops in Denver, Colorado:

  • May 14 – 16, 2012: How to Commercialize Your New Product Ideas.
  • May 21- 23: Boxology 101 – Everything You Need to Know about Food Packaging
  • July 9 – 11, 2012: How to Start Pop-Up Restaurant and Food Truck Business

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Latest posts by Darrel Suderman
Darrel Suderman
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi.
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