Giovanni Battistini is the SVP of Open Innovation at Ferrero. In this interview with Future Food-Tech, Giovanni shares his insights on the shifting attitudes towards health and wellness and growing concern for ingredient sourcing and transparency as well as Ferrero’s solution to the ‘bridge’ between Ferrero and start-ups.

How have you seen consumer preferences, tastes and consumption habits evolve over the years?
Our focus in Open Innovation Science is specifically on how technology and scientific advances are shaping evolving consumer preferences and habits. Some main topics that emerge by looking through this lens include:
1. Shifting attitudes towards health and wellness: While consumers today grow concerned about specific ingredients, their focus – as future personal devices and bio-sensors will be able to monitor their metabolic response in real time – will likely shift toward what really matters: their body’s response to their food choices. Furthermore, we are also witnessing the continued growth in the incidence of non-communicable diseases and especially food allergies, which is fragmenting consumer demand for products that accommodate their specific needs. All of these factors are likely to lead to what could be called the “Balkanization” of the food industry, as consumer dietary needs fragment further and further towards the individual rather than the group level.
2. Growing concern for ingredient sourcing and transparency: This can run the gamut from sustainability concerns to consumer demands for natural ingredients. Across the board we are seeing consumers push for a better understanding of what is in their food and what they are putting into their bodies. As technologies such as new analytical methods that allow us to “see” further into the products, as well as innovations like edible tagging and blockchain starting to be deployed in the supply chain, we are seeing a growing number of opportunities that arise in catering to consumer demands in these areas. This will spur a lot of innovation. Ferrero’s traditional strong focus on sourcing of high-quality and sustainable raw materials also positions us well to take advantage of this innovation.

How is Ferrero approaching innovation and leveraging novel technologies to strengthen its competitive position in the chocolate and sweet packaged food market worldwide?
In terms of open innovation, our team within Ferrero has taken an approach that is largely focused on technologies (as opposed to CPG/brands). We are scouting, evaluating, and integrating technologies from start-ups in quite a structured way, working across four specific areas (Metabolic Response, Biotechnology, AgriTech, and Product Protection). When we identify and successfully assess a promising start-up, our interaction could entail anything from a joint development agreement, a partnership to provide resources or expertise during scale-up, an investment, or eventually an acquisition. Our Open Innovation Science team can serve as a “bridge” between a large organization like Ferrero and the start-up world, running Proofs of Concept on use cases and applications that can benefit Ferrero, but may not have been obvious in the initial iteration of the technology the start-up is working on.

What types of food products and trends will become the new norm in the next 3-5 years?
As we see the manifestation of some of the trends mentioned above, we might start to see products that cater to these needs. A good example is the potential for natural ingredients that are produced through biomanufacturing techniques that can enhance product performance or reduce costs in a natural way. Another thing we are likely to see is first steps towards true personalization of products; in the next 3-5 years we might expect to see continued fragmentation of products tailored to unique dietary needs, in the pursuit of what some call “Permissible Indulgence”.

What’s next for Ferrero and what kind of partners are you looking to collaborate with?
Ferrero has a long tradition of innovating by creating new product categories and leading, rather than following the market. The Open Innovation Science team has the objective of seeking out innovations that will support Ferrero in continuing this strategy, over the next many years. We are excited to identify partners that can work with us to bring new tools, methods, and ways of thinking to our entire value chain, from raw materials to ingredients and formulation to packaging. For example, we see a lot of opportunity in those who are applying digital technology to these areas of the food space. We are also particularly excited to identify partners who can help us to meet or exceed our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) goals and to generate new ways to create value to share value.

Giovanni will be speaking on the panel Accelerating Innovation: Are we Reacting Quickly Enough and Collaborating at a Rate that can Truly Transform the Industry? at Future Food-Tech, March 21.

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