Unilever Seeks Growth via Help with Technical Challenges

By Rose Anthony

Unilever has a unique idea to drive sales. The giant consumer goods maker has issued a set of challenges to the world’s innovation community to help deliver sustainable growth.

The company’s Open Innovation team launched an online platform in March that provides the opportunity to find some of the technical solutions needed to achieve its ambition of doubling the size of the business while reducing the environmental impact, as set out in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Following the success of the platform, Unilever has now unveiled the details of another three research projects for which its Research & Development department is seeking external know-how. The company hopes it will receive a similar response to when it announced its first ten open innovation “wants” earlier this year. The platform has now received more than 1,000 submissions, ranging from ideas that tackle the challenges set by Unilever, to other technical solutions and new product ideas.

“We've been hugely impressed by the quality, ingenuity and inventiveness of the submissions that we’ve received since we launched our Open Innovation platform six months ago,” said Jon Hague, Vice President of Open Innovation for Unilever.

“We have a long track-record of working with external partners to develop new technologies, so we were already very aware of the strength and depth of the innovation talent which exists outside of Unilever. However, this was the first time we have shared our research projects in such an open forum and it’s very exciting to have tapped into a new community of inventors who share our passion for sustainable innovation and creating a better future for our consumers and the environment.”

Unilever is in advanced discussions with several technology companies as a result of publishing its first set of “wants” in March. The challenges ranged from technologies that could create lighter and more sustainable packaging, to laundry products which perform just as well with less water and lower temperatures.

The three new “wants” which Unilever is seeking collaboration on span two of its four global categories, Homecare and Refreshments. They are:
  • New technologies that break down fatty deposits left on clothes and hard surfaces in an efficient, odorless and environmentally friendly way. The solution could be incorporated as an ingredient in the detergent formulation or work as a pre-treatment application.
  • New technologies that enable Unilever to reduce the sugar in its ready-to-drink teas by 30%, without impacting on taste or mouth-feel.
  • New technologies that enable Unilever to stabilize natural red color cost-effectively for use in its fruit and dairy products. The solution must be water soluble and maintain the stability of the color throughout its shelf life.

All ideas submitted on all 13 wants will be assessed by an independent open innovation consultancy before any reach Unilever’s Open Innovation team. Since Unilever's Open Innovation team was founded in 2009, the number of research projects which involve external collaboration has increased from 25% to around 60%.

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                                                                               November 2012