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The Partnerships Behind the Products

General Mills is increasingly focused on external partner development, which means seeking new partnerships to solve specific problems or develop specific products.

At General Mills, we pride ourselves on our commitment to making our relationships with outside vendors and suppliers not only work, but last for the long haul. In fact, in recent years we’ve placed an increased focus on external partner development.

This sometimes means seeking new partnerships to solve specific problems or develop specific products, such as the partnerships sought through General Mills’ open innovation platform G-WIN.

Other times, the best solution is to revisit past relationships and embark on new projects that are mutually beneficial to both parties.

That scenario proved to be the catalyst for the development of Pillsbury Grands! Biscuit Sandwiches, a new breakfast product.

In June 2010, the Pillsbury team began seeking an open innovation partner to help create and assemble a homemade-style biscuit sandwich that would offer consumers a quick and easy way to enjoy a hot breakfast at home.

While our R&D team certainly had the expertise to make superior biscuit dough, our own plants had limited capacity available at that time to bake and assemble the biscuit sandwiches. Additionally, we wanted a partner with the capabilities to help develop and successfully assemble the biscuit toppings in order to save time and reduce the cost of the project.

Pillsbury principal scientist Peeyush Maheshwari suggested that the project team visit Pennsylvania-based Better Baked Foods to see the company’s capabilities and gauge its interest in collaborating on the biscuit sandwich concept. Prior to working on the Pillsbury team, Peeyush had previously supported innovation on the Totino’s brand. In that role, he had formed a relationship with Better Baked Foods to help Totino’s develop a new pizza product.

As things often go with new product development, the project they were working on at that time did not come to fruition; however, Peeyush and Better Baked Foods maintained their relationship over the years with both parties hoping for a future opportunity to work together again.

That opportunity presented itself in September 2010, when we were ready to move forward with developing Pillsbury Grands! Biscuit Sandwiches.

Because of the existing relationship between the two companies, Better Baked Foods was ready, willing and able to get to work in a matter of ten days, and brought a number of assets to the project with its extensive baking technology and expertise.

When Better Baked Foods’ technical capabilities were paired with our internal expertise, the result was a unique and superior-quality sandwich that couldn’t have been achieved as quickly or successfully had the Pillsbury team not enlisted an external partner to help with the project. Throughout the project, both companies came together to meld our strengths and meet an aggressive timeline.

“The phrase ‘teamwork’ gets overused and at times underappreciated; however, in this case it was neither,” says Joe Pacinelli, president and Chief Operating Officer of Better Baked Foods. “Partnerships are created through actions not words, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a production line sorting product, collecting data, moving material and even fetching supplies for the associates is the true meaning of partnering.”

In the end, our partnership with Better Baked Foods resulted in a successful first entry into savory frozen breakfast foods for Pillsbury.

Jeff Bellairs is the senior director of the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN), based in Minneapolis, Minn. He also is a frequent speaker on open innovation and has developed keen insights into the cultural and organizational approaches needed to create successful innovation programs. He began his career at General Mills in 1993.