Connecting the Dots

By LOUISE RAINONE, Vice President of Marketing, PCDworks Inc.

LOUISE RAINONEI recently discovered an interesting personal phenomenon. When surrounded by people talking about food, suddenly, all I can think about is my next meal.

The recent Food Evolution Summit (FES), hosted by Next Level Summits, at the Hilton Pointe Taipitato Hills Resort in Phoenix, was a hunger-inducing two days of great networking opportunities and fascinating insights into the future of everything food. Topics ranged from “Collaborating Your R&D with Marketing” to “Molecular Encapsulation Problem Solver in Food and Dietary Supplement.” (That last one made my head hurt; it was terrific, but it was just a little too scientific for my pea brain.)

In addition to the overall focus on food, one of the great benefits of the Food Evolution Summit was the way in which it was organized. There was plenty of time between lectures to network with potential clients or collaborative partners, or just seek out new contacts in the industry. Let’s be honest, networking is one of the primary reasons many of us attend these conferences (that and the cabana by the pool, of course). Even with social networking, there is truly nothing like a face-to-face talk with a colleague. A firm hand shake and an actual exchange of business cards is something that only opportunities like the FES make possible.

Tracey Altman, the VP of marketing for a fellow Texas-based company called Wholly Guacamole, gave one of the conference’s best presentations. Altman is a woman whose personality ignites the room, and she prefaced her lecture by acknowledging that her subject “certainly isn’t rocket science,” but rather a reminder that marketing and R&D must collaborate to ensure that the proper products make it into the marketplace.

A stereotypical marketing guru on steroids, Altman is good at selling her product because she truly believes it is the best on the market. Not a stretch when you are, in my opinion, selling the most delicious guacamole known to mankind. (Hungry yet?)

Another great presenter was Dr. Scott Lineback, vice president of process innovation at ConAgra Foods. Most people think of ConAgra as a huge consortium of more than 20 different labels, but Lineback is asking his team to think outside the traditional realm when it comes to new product development, and connect dots that haven’t been connected already. What exactly does that mean? It means seeking out opportunities in technologies that have been overlooked or traditionally used in other industries.

This, of course, is a concept near and dear to my heart, as it defines the way my employer, PCDworks, thinks. The idea is to look beyond normal industry standards of what is considered possible and take a more universal view. Why can’t we, for instance, look at what is going on in the medical world to seek out alternatives for manufacturing process problems?

The great thing about Dr. Lineback is that he actively encourages his team to seek out different opportunities that might spawn a new idea or path. He wants them to look for a way to connect the dots whether it’s at a conference that they wouldn’t traditionally go to, or seeking out magazines and literature that aren’t associated with the food industry; this is how great break-through ideas can be created. Astoundingly, Dr. Lineback is actually implementing this non-traditional thought process into a large corporate structure.

Overall, the FES was well-organized, and the Next Level Summit staff was generous and accommodating. I would highly recommend this show to anyone wondering where the food industry is looking to go, and even those in other industries looking to connect the dots and get inspired.

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