General Mills has launched an initiative aimed at expanding and accelerating innovation advances within the company by engaging with companies and professionals from outside its own operations.

Through its Worldwide Innovation Network (WIN), the Minneapolis-based food group said it is looking for external partners with new products and technologies that will be complementary to its brands and businesses.

“We have formalised our open innovation initiative to ensure potential partners recognise that we are not only open to new products and technologies, we are actively seeking them,” said Peter Erickson, General Mills senior vice president of innovation, technology and quality. “A focus on open innovation has been a critical competitive advantage for General Mills. We believe the next big advance, which may reshape the food industry, has already been invented by someone outside the company, and our goal is to be the first to find it.”

Seeing innovation as critical to its success and a key growth driver, General Mills said it was seeking through the new initiative patented or patent-pending products and technologies from inventors and small companies.

Business categories of interest include baking products; cereal; frozen vegetables, pastries, pizza and snacks; refrigerated and frozen dough; shelf-stable meals, meal kits, soups and side dishes; snack bars, fruit snacks, salty snacks; organic soups, cereals, snack bars; yoghurt; and soy beverages.

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“Partners who help us achieve our innovation goals will benefit from General Mills’ resources, scale and credibility in the marketplace to advance their own business,” said Jeff Bellairs, General Mills’ director of external innovation. “We believe that innovation, whether it is in our products, packaging or processes, should deliver mutual benefit to the company, our partners and the consumer.”

As part of its external innovation drive, General Mills recently partnered with NineSigma’s solution provider network to use the expertise of scientists and engineers around the world to help solve some of the most challenging technical issues. The company also recently joined YourEncore, a network of retired professionals from scientific and engineering backgrounds, to accelerate new product development.