New 'inventive' food innovation

June 13, 2012 | by Darrel Suderman

What marketing term comes next after "innovation" loses its luster for defining R&D departments?

The food industry used the term 'research and development' to describe its new product development activities for decades. Note that this term included two complementary terms – 'Research' and 'Development.'

The implication was both terms were complementary, and reflected two distinct functions. Leading food companies, such as General Foods, General Mills, Pillsbury and Tyson foods were proud to tout their research and development departments. They even named their R&D departments after distinguished food scientists with an accomplished research and development career success record.

I started my career working for Durkee Foods in Strongsville, Ohio, and worked in a new R&D facility called the Dwight P. Joyce R&D Center. Durkee had a strong focus on patent development, and two subsequent executives took prominent executive positions at General Mills. Today, that same facility might be called the Dwight P. Joyce Innovation Center – and it also housed the Glidden Paint R&D Center.

But as I stated in my last blog, the 'innovation' term has begun to wear thin. The Wall Street Journal found the term 'innovation' was used 33,528 times in quarterly and annual business reports last year alone (Article written by Leslie Kwoh titled "You Call That Innovation"? May 23, 2012).

So what term will eventually replace 'Innovation'? Try 'Inventive,' states William Hickey, CEO/President, of Sealed Air Corporation. He says 'inventive' is a mindset: innovation is a thing – and I agree! Hickey told the Wall Street Journal that he is considering dropping the term innovation in company materials. True 'disruptive innovation' can be simply measure by two questions – did it create any new jobs or business?

Back to the history of the innovation term, research and development implied a dual process – research and development. The process of research was to explore ways to create new products by managing the physiochemistry of food components – and it often resulted in new product or process patents. Leprino Foods, in Denver, is an excellent example of a food company that built its reputation on new cheese technologies.

But as time proceeded, new product research evolved into a new mindset term called 'creative,' and companies hired research chefs to bridge the gap between research and creativity. This alliance also became the foundation for a great organization called the Research Chefs Association. Since its inception, the association's annual meeting attendance has soared at the expense of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).

Not only has the RCA become a venue for job and social networking, but creative research and development processes are being taught in culinary universities like Johnson & Wales. As the concept of research chefs took hold in the United States, so did the word 'innovation.' But some companies stole the term to describe innovation that was nonexistent in their company.

So what's next? Inventive! I like the term 'inventive' because it represents a developmental mindset, and gets the food industry back to true innovation. Inventive is a lot easier to measure or quantify, and should separate the wheat from the chaff. Let's watch the industry to see how soon we see the word inventive replacing innovation.

For more information on 1-day corporate innovation seminars, please contact me at or follow the Food Innovation Institute website ( for information on a Food Innovation 3-day workshop in Denver:

July 9–11, 2012: How to Start Pop-Up Restaurant and Food Truck Business

Topics: Food & Beverage , Operations Management , Research & Development / Innovation , Trends / Statistics

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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