Co-create to innovate

More than just a buzzword, true co-creation is the key to unlocking innovation and driving change in our products and food systems.

Photo from pre-COVID times


Consumer surveys. Focus groups. Sensory testing. Social media monitoring. As actors in the food industry, market research in its many forms has always been one of our most powerful tools for innovation and customer-centric product development. But go one step further and deeply involve key stakeholders right from the get-go and the result will be not only mutually beneficial but also truly innovative. This is co-creation.

Co-creation is by no means new to food innovation nor to EIT Food and its partners. It has always been at the heart of our mission and forms a crucial element of our strategic agenda. As our guiding motto states, ‘We are all responsible for, and connected to, the food that we eat so we all need to work together to improve it.‘ This is the true spirit behind co-creation and our projects.


How we define Co-creation @ EIT Food

Co-creation is a process of collaborative invention and/or innovation that results in new value creation as well as value capture (e.g. concepts, solutions, technologies, products, services and/or data) between key strategic parties and target group(s) (e.g. suppliers, consumers, users, customers). Ideas are identified, shaped and improved together, collaboratively and transparently. Co-creation starts in the early stages of innovation development and the cooperation continues throughout all phases such as ideation, design and implementation, whereby the results are mutually beneficial to all involved parties.


Co-creating value - what are the benefits?

When a process for true co-creation is implemented, all parties win. Products have a shorter time to market and a higher chance of success as they have been developed along the entire process with their end user or consumer and other key parties. And although organisations may think they can simply conduct market research to test their product or gain insights, with co-creation stakeholders are already involved from the ideation stage. Rather than providing a reaction or opinion to an existing idea or prototype, the idea is developed together.

Consumers as a source for inspiration

But how is co-creation actually executed? It has to be seen as a very strategic and beneficial partnership with all potential stakeholders identified. These parties are then mapped against their expertise and influence to develop the methodology of how to involve which stakeholders in the co-creation process. Although all stakeholders are important in the process, they can be brought into the process differently.

Consumers co-creating innovative food products: EIT Food RIS Consumer Engagements Labs (CEL)

Consumer Engagement Labs are co-creation processes for the food industry. They are an innovative form of cooperation between food producers and consumers, based on unique methodology developed by social scientists from the University of Warsaw. The methodology was first piloted by EIT Food in four countries in 2019. This past year, the Labs were rolled out to a further ten countries. Despite obvious constraints due to Covid-19, the workshops went ahead, even though some market research experts initially doubted the feasibility of organising creative group sessions via Zoom in the middle of a global pandemic.

Participants were consumers aged 65+ and local companies representing different segments of the food industry: retailers, producers and innovative start-ups. The consortia also included scientific institutions, which facilitated the local workshops, and NGOs. The goal was to jointly create new, exciting food products that would meet the requirements of target consumers.


Photo from pre-COVID times


As co-creation expert and project lead Prof. Krzysztof Klincewicz from the University of Warsaw remarked, "Co-creation is perhaps one of the most misused terms in the innovation world and it seems that everyone has their own understanding of what it means." But one need only to look at the results of the RIS Consumer Engagement Labs (CEL) to get a good idea about what it is and what the opportunities are.

The insights that were gained through co-creating with the seniors went on to define the product and the project team remarked that the information was far more in-depth than what one can get from typical market research or involving the consumers only at a specific stage of product development and prototyping. That the workshops were also conducted in 14 countries was very helpful to the co-creation process. Many original and exciting ideas came out of the workshops, yet the producers found the food product concepts relatively easy to implement. Producers involved included Polish vegetable conserve maker, Folwark Wąsowo; Spanish producer of bread spreads and pates, Iberitos; and Lithuanian manufacturer of grains Ekofrisa.

Surprisingly, there were also many common elements which arose from the consumer groups even though they looked at different food categories in the different countries, unlocking new and valuable insights as a result of the process. For example, consumers recommended food producers to decrease unit sizes in order to encourage purchases by seniors. Other recurring ideas included nostalgic memories of childhood food, and traditional recipes that could be recreated with new, healthy ingredients.

After the implementation of the Labs in 14 countries (2019-2020), results of these co-creation processes will be widely shared within the EIT Food community and beyond, as part of project dissemination planned for 2021.

Learn more about the CEL here.

Transforming the food system

The challenges facing the food system cannot be underestimated. Our goal is to contribute to transforming the food system and this will not happen with a silver bullet innovation or an incremental improvement on today’s technologies or production chains. Through co-creating products, services and processes we can be part of the solution. Issues such as undernourished populations and increased greenhouse gas emissions from food production will have a disruptive effect on our global future and will only be solved with equally disruptive and innovative solutions which cannot be created in isolation: Collaboration through co-creation may in fact just be the key to transforming the food system.

Andy Zynga, CEO of EIT Food looks forward to the success of future co-creation projects and the impact that they will drive: “Co-creation is a crucial success factor for our partners and for our Innovation Projects. As an ongoing and collaborative process, it results in new value creation and new value capture. In the coming years we will undoubtedly see many game-changing innovations and products in the food sector that have resulted from co-creation projects."



Let’s co-create! Reach out to us via FoodHIVE and let us know what your thoughts or experiences are with co-creation in the comments!


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