Unilever seeks out new ideas

22 March 2012

LONDON: Unilever, the FMCG giant, is making greater use of open innovation to source new ideas that will help the firm double its revenues and halve its environmental impact.

The owner of brands like Ben & Jerry's, Dove and Persil has just launched an online platform soliciting suggestions for "breakthroughs"  the company, its customers and the planet.

Each project will draw on an explicit "Want", the term Unilever employs to describe its main areas of focus. One example of this is technology providing safe drinking water for less than 1¢ per litre.

Discovering active ingredients for cleaning lines not relying on bleaches, strong acids or alcohols similarly falls under this rubric, as does identifying laundry products offering superior washing performance at lower temperatures and while minimising water use.

Cutting the amount of sodium in food without detracting from the taste and developing lighter, more sustainable packaging to reduce waste are also among the corporation's core objectives.

Roger Leech, Unilever's open innovation scouting director, said that achieving success would be "fundamental" to attaining the organisation's long term financial, ecological and social goals.

"Our global research and development teams consistently make innovation breakthroughs which keep Unilever at the forefront of product development and design," he added.

"Smart collaboration with partners gives both parties the freedom to do business in new and invigorating ways - creating shared value along the way.

Unilever first started pursuing open innovation in 2009, since when the proportion of its R&D involving third parties has risen from 25% to 60%. Some 30% of its sales also now come from products launched in the last two years.

To effectively pick between the proposals submitted by other firms and individuals, the UK-based company will work with Yet2.com, a specialist intellectual property consultancy in Boston.

"We know that the world is full of brilliant people with brilliant ideas, and we are constantly looking for new ways to tap into this potential by working with partners who have a fresh, serious approach to developing exciting new technology," said Leech.

Data sourced from Unilever/Bloomberg; additional content by Warc staff