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Bonduelle: An Innovative Giant in the Agri-Food Industry

07 October 2016 by National Bank
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From the frozen foods of Arctic Gardens to the store brands of your local supermarket , there hides an international agri-food giant: a company called Bonduelle. How and why does this company innovate when they’ve been around since 1853, are active in over 100 countries, and have sales in the range of 3.8 billion Canadian dollars?

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We asked Christian Malenfant, Vice-President of Marketing at Bonduelle Americas, to fill us in on the company’s success.

Bonduelle has grown primarily through acquisitions,this is how the group became established in North America. In 2007, Bonduelle purchased Aliments Carrière, which was then the main stakeholder in Canada in the field of canned and frozen vegetables.

The group's growth can also be attributed to its ability to innovate.

Customer Demand and Pressure from Competitors

The company set itself to "innovation mode", partly to meet the demand of supermarket generic brands, which represents 75% of Bonduelle Americas' sales revenue. "Since we are a giant, our customers expect us to offer them new solutions," points out Christian Malenfant.

Innovation also aims to keep Bonduelle one step ahead of smaller processors, which offer value-added products.

The group is also attempting to grab shares in the fresh vegetable market. "In the West, 80 to 85% of vegetables are consumed fresh," emphasizes the Vice-President of Marketing of Bonduelle Americas.

Reinventing the pea, therefore, is out of the question. "We want to conserve the purity of the vegetable," underlines Christian Malenfant. In this context, innovating consists of developing procedures that will preserve the integrity of the vegetable as much as possible.

Reviewing the Responsibilities of Each Department

Two years ago, with the goal of improving its ability to innovate, Bonduelle Americas created a process chart. The objective: to optimize the distribution of tasks in relation to product development.

The approach brought to light an overburden on the marketing department. "We were performing supply chain tasks, like packaging and inventory management," recalls Christian Malenfant.

Once freed of these ill-suited tasks, his team was able to concentrate on their expertise, like design, market analysis and presentations to customers.

Stages and Validation

The marketing team also implemented an innovation process based on the model of assessment by stage (Stage-Gate). "This is a model where you have to break projects down to stages and insert an assessment point after each one," explains Christian Malenfant.

According to him, the advantage of this model is involving upper management in each stage of the process. The result is increased visibility and credibility in projects... and colleagues more easily convinced of the importance of participating in them.

Three Fruitful Ideas

Freezing spinach leaf by leaf in order to preserve the vegetable's shape is one of the new products stemming from this innovative approach. "It's a success with our customers in the United States," states Christian Malenfant.

Like quite a few inventions, innovations are often the result of a happy coincidence. In looking for a way to reduce the volume of water necessary to blanch corn, the R&D team stumbled upon a vacuum dehydration process using microwaves. They came up with the idea of applying this method to vegetables with a high water content, like zucchini or pepper. "When you lightly dehydrate the food before freezing it, you reduce the formation of ice crystals that deteriorate the pulp of the vegetables when thawing," explains Christian Malenfant. This vacuum technique produces an exceptional result: thawed vegetables whose texture resembles that of fresh vegetables and whose flavour is even more concentrated, he maintains.

The next step: convincing customers, starting with those in the industrial sector. Yet, in this sector, each new item has an impact on the manufacturing method. "If a pepper releases less water on a pizza, the ingredient that once had the role of absorbing this water could now make the pizza dry, explains Christian Malenfant. The role of the marketing department is to make customers understand the advantages of the new product, but also to be attentive to their needs, to lead them to accept the innovation."

Innovation Advice from Christian Malenfant

  • Clearly distinguish "having ideas" from "innovating". "Having ideas could be a stroke of luck. But to innovate, you have to be disciplined and spend time developing the ideas. The pieces of the puzzle will eventually come together," he assures.
  • Establish assessment points at each stage of the project in order to get the company's upper management involved, get their point of view and their concerns.
  • Work with a playful spirit. "Everyone is creative in their own way!" assures Christian Malenfant.
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