Innovation – driving the competitive gap

Innovation - driving the competitive gap

Photo courtesy of Bühler

Over the pandemic we have seen some inspiring and innovative responses to the coronavirus crisis by firms and universities. Necessity is the mother of invention after all.

I found this to be the case listening to one company, Bühler, at its annual (currently virtual) conference yesterday. 

The coronavirus pandemic may well leave its mark on industries and innovation in a way no other crisis has before and will continue to do so for many years to come. Yet, from dealing with lockdown conditions to promoting efficient ways of working, Bühler showed how it is adapting and innovating to build a new working world.

In response to our current unprecedented environment, Bühler outlined three “levers” to drive differentiation, support customers and demonstrate how industry can be successful through its commitment to reduce down energy, waste, and water consumption in its customers’ value chains.

Sustainability is one part. In fact, it’s a mission sewed into the fundamentals of the company to the extent that R&D spend goes on solutions that will reduce energy, waste, and water by 50 per cent. Bühler has kept its innovation spend at more than five per cent of turnover, and it is focussed on innovation and differentiation.

Digital services is a second element. 

Digital has taken off in all facets of our lives through our virtual worlds, communication, and our relationships with friends and family. And, so it is in our professional lives – but with greater insight. Bühler sees the adoption of digital as ripe right now.

“You can’t always physically get the right skills to the right place but with the remote services, with better data transparency you can improve operations without physically being there,” stated its chief technology office, Ian Roberts.

He reveals that the MyBuhler, a digital portal, which has over 6,500 customers, can also drive reductions in energy, waste, and water consumption by gaining greater performance out of processing lines versus sustainability targets for operational and financial improvements.

Third, we have the dedication to making sustainable protein alternatives taste great, become more affordable, nutritious, and more sustainable. Bühler sees this happening via partnerships such as opening new application centres for food in Minneapolis, US, for malting and brewing in Beilngries, Germany, and a new training and education center for cocoa processing in Abidjan, Cote-d’Ivoire. With Givaudan, the global leader in flavors and fragrances, Bühler built an Innovation Center dedicated to plant-based foods in Singapore. The new facility is planned to open in March 2021. 

Then people will switch diets more readily because they have viable options. 

According to Professor Stephen Roper of Warwick University, evidence suggests that spending on innovation is procyclical – rising in periods of strong growth and declining in periods of crisis. However, investing in innovation in periods of crisis can be beneficial for firms in the longer term with innovators typically maintaining stronger post-crisis profitability and demonstrating greater resilience than non-innovators.

Despite the challenging environment, Bühler continued to execute its innovation roadmap, launching 86 new products and solutions. 

Such activity is supporting projects where the pandemic is a catalyst for innovation, enabling businesses to adapt to the new environment. Companies looking at their investment activity have an important role, particularly in sustaining more radical innovation. The can-do attitude is an inspiration, however. And, maintaining this commitment to innovation really matters.

It’s astonishing the difference a year can make in business.

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