How Nestle executives drive Innovation and Continuous Improvement

Nestlé’s Product Technology Centre (PTC) in York is at the forefront of Confectionery Research and Development, translating scientific discoveries into marketable products by putting commercial focus on ‘blue-sky’ ideas. York’s focused research centre serves as a means of accelerating the speed and agility of the company's global innovation. Hear from the people driving innovation and continuous improvement within the facility.

Jas Scott de Martinville - the Global R&D Lead for Confectionery at Nestlé - and Faith Burndred - Nestlé Continuous Excellence Champion at Nestlé Product Technology Centre York – sat down with The Leadership Network to give an exclusive insight into how they drive innovation and operational excellence at Nestlé Confectionery division.

Jas Scott de Martinville - Global R&D Lead for Confectionery at Nestlé – on accelerating innovation

What would you say are some of the key responsibilities in your role?

I am the Global R&D Lead for Confectionery at Nestlé. 

You’re at the centre of all product innovation. Where do you find inspiration for new innovative products?

We stay close, connected to our consumers around the Globe, and use various on line and virtual consumer communities in addition to the more traditional consumer research forums to engage early. We tap into social media e.g. stay close to Pinterest for example. Finally, we engage with external partners to help us move fast.    

How do you accelerate innovation within Nestlé?

We accelerate the pace of innovation through a combination of early trend spotting, rapid prototyping, blue sky ideation, Professional project management and bringing together cross functional multi skilled teams to focus on innovations.

How do you tackle the increasing demand for organic, gluten-free and vegan goods?

Before we start focusing on such fads/trends we start by determining if they are indeed only a fad or a true trend. As a global player we focus our innovation in areas where we believe the idea is scalable – that is to say we reach a certain minimum critical mass. As a rule of thumb we expect any R&D project to give us a minimum of 10x its value in terms of new sales.

Secondly we seriously think about the size of the idea vs the complexity and/or cost, only then do we start to drive such ideas forwards.     

What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing in your role?

Confectionery is a treat and pleasure category and clearly our consumers have and will continue to buy confectionery for years to come – we don’t see a world in which people stop eating chocolate. However, macro challenges such as Obesity and Plastic are serious and we have a critical role to play as a Global food manufacturer. We take this role very seriously and our R&D facility is key to helping us tackle such challenges.   

What does the process look like for bringing a new product to the market?

I could write a book about this, A very simplified helicopter view would be as follows….

The process starts with a great idea, an idea which sounds exciting, has some novelty to it and results in a product that tastes amazing or an experience that is truly magical.

We then quickly align on which brand and which part of our business such an idea would be a perfect fit for.

Then comes the brief, the detailed document which brings to life what we plan to achieve with the idea.

The real work can then start, assigning a professional project manager, a team and of we go. Working in this way enables us to deliver an idea to market from anywhere as little as 6 months …for example RUBY KITKAT and up to 2 years depending on the type of innovation ie product, technology or packaging.  

Working with different people and cultures across the globe, how do you ensure consistency of vision with regards to innovation practices across the product portfolio?

Very simply through standardised processes and practices and clear alignment and understanding of our strategic priorities.   

Faith Burndred - Nestlé Continuous Excellence Champion at Nestlé Product Technology Centre York – on striving for excellence

What’s your definition of successful continuous improvement?

A culture where we are not only to be proud to do our work, but also where we are proud to improve our work – for the benefit of the business, its customers, and our teams.

How do you motivate your people to always do better?

One very important thing is to reflect on the progress that we have made. It’s very easy to be critical of our current state, but by looking back we can also see how far we’ve come, and use this to feel proud and also motivated to do more. A great way to do this is to network and share, either with other parts of the business or externally – by doing so you will naturally review and celebrate your progress.

What do you currently focus on?

One of our current focus areas is Lean Leadership – helping our Leaders have the skills and confidence to role model lean behaviours – so that they can support, challenge and encourage their team members in their continuous improvement endeavours.

A second focus area is speed of innovation – how can we get our new products and technologies to market faster, through working on the right things, increasing the efficiency of the way we work, and solving our technical challenges in a structured and sustainable manner.

What do you find is the hardest part of making continuous improvement part of the company culture? How do you address that?

A few things can make it difficult, including a too-heavy focus on tools instead of developing the mindset; too much rigidity of approach making people feel like it is ‘done to them’, and reverting to old behaviours when the pressure is on.

The biggest factor in making it part of our culture is strong Leadership drive and support. If the Leaders consistently demonstrate its importance and role model the right behaviours themselves, this naturally drives the culture change. In addition to that, if methods and tools are used pragmatically and we empower teams to use what genuinely works for them, this also creates buy-in.

How do you find the balance between rigid standards and requirements and the flexibility to modify tools and processes to fit the application/work where they are used?

We do of course have non-negotiable standards, such as those relating to safety and food safety. Some of our processes and work activities are in place to help us achieve these standards. However, it is always possible to challenge the efficiency of these processes, as often they have evolved over the years to be complex and slow. Using Lean methods we can improve them, with the aim of making them simple yet error-proof by design.

What are some of the key factors you take into consideration when setting the goals for your continuous excellence program?

The goals of our continuous excellence programme are primarily driven by the changes that we know we need to make, in order to meet the needs of our business. We regularly review what could block us from delivering, and ensure that we have a plan in place to remove these blockers. This creates a pull for the ongoing development of the mindset and methods of continuous improvement.

What metrics do you use to identify the successfulness of your Lean programme?

There are various metrics which can indicate how successful we are. Firstly, if we consider the customers of our innovation within our business, they are looking for faster speed to market, and innovation that delivers better sales growth, that is delivered on time with a right-first-time factory startup. Our Lean programme impacts all of these metrics. But also we must consider how our employees feel, and for this we can measure factors such as employee engagement.

Learn exactly how to develop a world-class Lean culture at Nestlé: 

Leading The Lean Enterprise Masterclass

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