Innovation Award – Hormel Foods

Dan Hirstde Bono Consulting recently interviewed Dan Hirst of Hormel Foods regarding the R&D Team of the Year Award from Food Processing Magazine. Dan is a Certified Lateral Thinking Trainer and Packaging Research Scientist at Hormel Foods.

Dan, congratulations to you and your fellow team members at Hormel on this prestigious award! Many may wonder how such a large organization with multiple brands and up to 300 projects at one time is able to drive on-going successful innovation. What would you say has been the driving factor for your team at Hormel?

I do not feel there is one driving factor pertaining to innovation, but rather a series of pertinent elements that have been key to our success at Hormel. First, we have a talented team of individuals, who are experts in their respective areas of work. Secondly, we have a new product development process that provides project mapping. Lastly, we have a group here at R&D that is constantly pursuing new technologies that will help differentiate our products from that of our competitors.

You have trained many members of your R&D team and others at Hormel in Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking methods. How often do you see these tools in action within teams at Hormel?

I think this is hard to quantify, as I am not involved in all our ideation sessions. I have been involved in numerous meetings where the tools have been presented, and the output is typically more fruitful when the participants have been trained in lateral thinking. I do know that the scientists here at R&D use the tools more informally than formally, i.e, they incorporate the tools in their own daily work, and not part of a larger group.

Thinking back to before you employed formal Lateral Thinking tools, how would you describe the impact the tools have had on the teams’ ability to innovate on demand?

We do a more effective job ideating. Historically, brainstorming has been one of our sources of ideas, but lateral thinking has provided us new avenues that perhaps would not have been discovered without the tools. The key to the tools is that they are easy to use, and can be used without any preparation.

Where have you found the most benefit in applying the Lateral Thinking Tools? Product development, packaging development, line extensions, exploratory science, new technology application, food safety interventions, problem solving, cost reduction, or something else?

There are no restrictions concerning where the tools can be used. This is another key attribute of the de Bono tools. I think we have had success in all areas. Because the tools have been presented to our marketing teams, they also have benefited in their line of work.

How do you calculate risk?

The topic of risk is a complex one and requires the contributions of marketing, R&D, operations, purchasing, and numerous other disciplines. Marketing, however, is ultimately responsible for the decision of a new product launch. It is their responsibility to solidify the opportunities that will benefit from this new item.

How do you budget for innovation exploration?

For the most part, this is a consensus of our group managers within R&D, but does need the ultimate support of Dr. Minerich. We do, however, work closely with the different divisions to make certain they clearly understand the technologies we are exploring, and how these could benefit them. We also listen to their wants and needs and allocate resources accordingly.

Anything you would like to say about why your R&D team at Hormel has been so successful and a leader in your industry?

First and foremost, as I alluded to earlier, we have an exceptional team here at R&D. We have talked a lot about lateral thinking and our scientists, but there are numerous other functions within the division that play a key role in our success. Additionally, we have effective relationships with personnel across all divisions, along with our suppliers. Lastly, our senior management has identified innovation and new product development as a key focus of the company, and have been very supportive of our initiatives.