Learning with the best food innovators in the world

FIPDes student at the13th Annual Global Food Innovation and Technology Summit

FIPDes student Elisabete Oliveira attended the13th Annual Global Food Innovation and Technology Summit in London in March 2015.

The Global Food Technology & Innovation Summit attracts the leaders in food innovation, R&D and marketing from the world’s leading consumer food and beverage companies.

It was a great experience. That is what first comes to my mind when I think about the 2 days spent at the 13th Annual Global Food Innovation and Technology Summit, in London, on the 2nd and 3rd of March. As a soon to be master graduate I was able to attend, although it was directed towards innovation and R&D professionals. Nevertheless as a guest I had the opportunity to listen and talk with some of the industry leading innovation experts, not only from familiar companies such as Nestlé and Heineken, but also promising new companies like Wheyhey and Hampton Creek.
The food industry was very well represented with speakers and attendees from all over the world.

One of those speakers was Andoni Luís Aduriz, from Spain. I bet most of the attendees got inspired by the chef in charge of one of the world’s best restaurants: Mugaritz. It was the first time I saw him and he was captivating. His message was clear – Dare to be; Take action and create.
He mentioned that creativity is common to us all. We are all able to create, to do. And creativity isn’t something that strikes us at a point in time, either alone or with friends. It’s something we seek and practice every day, by interacting with our surroundings and stealing. Stealing ideas, opinions and knowledge, all as our source of inspiration is a perspective that comes from long ago. Andoni mentioned how a famous Picasso quote was not unique to Picasso himself. The idea that “Bad artists copy. Great artists steal” was said before him, by other great minds, like Oscar Wilde, although in different ways.

(Chef Andoni Luís Aduriz from Mugaritz)

That resonated well with me. The first time I’ve read this quote was from another “stealer”. Austin Kleon, in his book “Steal Like An Artist”. Austin is an artist/writer who believes nothing is original. That we have to look up to others to be inspired and create from the unique mix that are our surroundings and personal interests, memories etc. And everything, really everything can serve as inspiration. That’s what chef Andoni and his team do. They travel around, they experience new things, they collect what’s already under the sun and then go into the kitchen to make counterintuitive food. Food that looks like something we believe we know, but in reality, it has a lot more to it. It results from a decontextualization process which I believe is also used by the food technology company, Hampton Creek.

Hampton Creek was founded 3 years ago and is searching the worlds’ plants categories in order to make the products we all love and want, in a more sustainable way. And this really exemplifies what we learn while studying innovation and business development. We need to solve a market need and Hampton Creek’s need is not only strong, it’s crucial for competitiveness. As Chris Jones, Director of Culinary Innovation at Hampton Creek mentioned, large corporations can be very slow when it comes to radical innovation, therefore start-ups have to be innovative to shake the status quo and have a place in the market. For me that was clear with Hampton Creek, but also with Wheyhey.

Their story begins with two good friends, physiologists and passionate sporties, who were unhappy with their ice-cream options, when they were still in college. They have the typical story of a company were the funders have an idea, believe in it and fight to see it in the shelves. With ups and downs, tight money and some melt downs (from the ice-cream, of course) the founders manage to succeed. Now, three years later, their drive is still on and by focusing on the consumer they saw another gap. They noticed that pure coconut water was advocated as the best natural recovery drink, but it was lacking a nutrient most sporties need, protein. So the combination of both coconut water and protein resulted in a new product, unique to the market. This really goes back to chef Andoni’s message that you need to steal what’s already out there to create something new.

It’s expected that the path for a successful food product is long (an even with a lot of preparation and research, success is not guaranteed). That was clear in the Diageo session with Dave Madigan, the Global Innovation & Brand Change Director. Being the fountain of well-known drinks like Baileys, Guinness, Smirnoff or Johnnie Walker, I believe this session, like most, could have had continued for hours. It did not, but it showed how innovation is more than a great idea, or in the case of Baileys, a tasty drink. Its main challenge was the short shelf life and emulsion stability, but it was solved with food technology and a lot of persistence.

I was glad to see that Diageo uses the Stage Gate process to manage innovation. As a FIPDes student I learned this method precisely in Ireland, in Dublin, where Guinness is a big attraction, so it was satisfying to see how they’ve adapted it to improve even further the process speed.
Also in Dublin, we had a class on Food Regulatory Affairs which is intense, but much needed. I still remember when we learned about nutrition and health claims. It has been a year now and having the opportunity to remind some of the learnings with a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) member made me appreciate those classes. By the end of the session, the attendees had key messages on what to do, and not to do, before submitting an application for a health claim. Very useful as the need to address health issues with food increases.

Also very useful, but from a different perspective was the cooking class. After an exciting first day, we went to the L’atelier des Chefs to prepare our own dinner, street food style. We have got to put some aprons on and get our hands into the dough to make fajitas, mini burgers, peri-peri chicken and even sushi. And in the meanwhile, we were not only learning how to cook, we were learning about each other. Conversation would easily sparkle and by the time we had to prepare dessert, we were no longer strangers.

(Enjoying the mini-burgers at the L’atelier des Chefs during the cooking class)

I hope this cooking classes become a must at the summit. I also hope to attend again as the benefit of interacting with so many experts from the food industry, in such a short time, makes the experience fruitful and craving for more. Even being in London, one the most multicultural and innovative cities in Europe, talking about food, makes perfect sense, has we only need to walk around to see new things.
Many other sessions were part of the summit so I hope more have the opportunity to join the event and that the future innovators can be some of us, FIPDes students.

Website of the Global Food Innovation and Technology Summit:

(Elisabete Oliveira, FIPDes student 2013-2015)

(March 2015)

- Updated March 2015 -