Ahead of his company’s involvement at the summit, we spoke to David Behringer, CEO of Pilot Lite Ventures USA, about sustaining food trends, ‘intrapreneurs’ and his strategies in the investment space.
How do we ensure plant-based foods aren’t just another trend that comes and goes?
We know that reducing our overall consumption of meat will help the planet, but how plant-based foods will affect individual health is unknown. Four of the commercially available plant- based burgers (including Beyond and Impossible), all offer more fiber than a raw beef burger—but they also have considerably higher levels of sodium. For true staying power, plant-based foods must hit three marks: great taste, good for the planet and good for you. The challenge for consumers will be incorporating plant-based products into their diets in a way that helps them achieve their health and lifestyle goals.
Pilot Lite has established a new investment fund aimed at corporate IP that has been abandoned or shelved. What’s your strategy?
Corporates can typically only pursue a few breakthrough R&D innovation opportunities at a time, although they’d prefer to be moving many. They just don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to do more while still maintaining and investing in their core brands.
We created Pilot Lite Capital (PLC) to quickly convert stranded corporate IP into valuable assets. PLC essentially acquires the asset from the corporate and then creates a separate entity for the new business. From there, our team at Pilot Lite Ventures accelerates the commercialization process.
To date, PLC has acquired four corporate R&D opportunities and we’re adding up to $150m to our fund to continue investing in promising corporate IP. PLC projects coming to market in 2020 include a pulp bottling line for the beverage industry; a processing technology that delivers potato chip taste with less fat and salt; an oral care device that provides dentist-level care at home; and the sustainable W’air home clothing care tool that refreshes clothes with just a small amount of water. All of these assets share the characteristics of a great market opportunity: each is a breakthrough innovation that had significant corporate investment and early indicators of a strong market demand.
You’re an award-winning innovator who spent more than two decades inside a large food company, yet you don’t believe in ‘intrapreneurs.’ Why?
There is no such thing as an intrapreneur. It is a concept that suggests an employee in a large company can work within its complex rules and be successful at accelerating a new business into the market while working within the logistical constraints and bureaucracy of a large organization. Anyone who has spent time within a Fortune 500 organization knows it is a difficult ask. The concept has been touted for years, yet there are few examples of intrapreneurs creating big opportunities in an accelerated, de-risked and economic fashion for their organizations. To successfully create a new business, corporates need to change the rules and provide an environment that gives internal employees the freedom to leverage the principles of venture management to get opportunities validated, quickly to market trial and scaled.
In addition to converting stranded innovation into viable businesses, Pilot Lite also helps companies expand their market reach. Can you explain?
Over the last 10 years, Pilot Lite has launched new products for some of the world’s largest food and beverage companies and what we’ve found is that the traditional mainstream distribution model can only get you so far. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of untapped, uncalled-on retail outlets that aren’t reached by traditional distribution. Reaching these unserved food and beverage outlets is difficult for companies to do on their own — especially if the target market is a continent away or in a non-core channel. We’ve increased sales revenues for clients by identifying unserved outlets and creating an infrastructure for selling and distribution. Once the channel is proven, the client can take over the infrastructure and accelerate their internal capability to serve the outlets.
What advice would you give to companies introducing new brands in the food and beverage space?
Large corporates do a lot of concept testing and then launch a new product they believe is validated and de-risked but that, in many cases, is doomed to fail. Testing in a controlled environment is great for product and concept optimization but it produces an artificial view of an offering that doesn’t pick up the realities of the marketplace. Instead of spending millions of dollars on consumer testing during product development, we recommend setting aside a portion of the budget for a small pilot launch to produce real market data. Armed with this data, the offering can be tailored and launched regionally or nationally with the right campaign, consumer offering, supply chain and retailer/operator program.
What’s the best environment for growing a new brand?
Many large corporates make a mistake by delegating new opportunities to start-ups that are under-funded and under-resourced. Although start-ups can move quickly, they have few other advantages over corporates. Corporates have highly talented individuals, a wealth of low-cost capital and supply chain infrastructure that can be leveraged to bring new opportunities to market. By design, start-ups aren’t focused on long-term growth. Investors require that start-ups build toward a near-term sales event. As a result, once start-ups are sold or acquired, they typically struggle to be successful at scaling because the investors focused on short-term growth vs building the long-term foundation required for scaling.
Mike Anstey, CEO, Pilot Lite Group, will present: Expanding Market Reach for Food and Beverage Innovation at Future Food-Tech in San Francisco.