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Agropur taps into ‘collective intelligence’ with dairy innovation program

Mary Ellen Shoup

By Mary Ellen Shoup+

08-Nov-2016
Last updated on 08-Nov-2016 at 11:57 GMT2016-11-08T11:57:58Z

The Agropur Inno Challenge is aiming to extend the dairy consumption into categories that may not be using dairy.
The Agropur Inno Challenge is aiming to extend the dairy consumption into categories that may not be using dairy.

Three Canadian companies, Agropur Cooperative and Quartier de l’innovation de Montreal (QI), Ag BioCentre, and NineSigma, headquartered in the US, are teaming up to launch “Inno Challenge,” a new program with the aim of developing new dairy product solutions.

Armed with the slogan “Together, Let’s Reinvent Dairy,” the first call has gone out internationally to innovators and “creative thinkers” to submit their proposals for new dairy food or beverage solutions. The submission deadline is Dec. 7, 2016 with the selected participants set to be announced in January 2017.

“We want to be surprised,” Nicolas Marie, senior vice president of strategic sourcing and development at Agropur, told DairyReporter.

According to Marie, up to four candidates will be selected, and will then go through a four-month incubation phase where they will be connected with Agropur’s R&D experts as well as matched with creative, financial, and legal consultants to help bring their concept to a market-ready product concept.

Company-wide shift in the innovation mindset

“Today, you have to launch a new product almost every year, and if you don’t do that, you’re not competitive anymore,” Marie said.  

“And that’s not only true for Agropur, that’s a worldwide phenomenon.”

According to Agropur, it invests nearly C$15m (US$11.2m) into research and development in Canada and the US annually, with the goal of establishing a reputation as an innovation leader within the dairy industry. This focus on its innovation cycle has allowed Agropur to trim down its product development process from a two to three years to a few months, Marie said.

“It’s a very agile process,” he added.

Part of its commitment to innovation included opening a new head office in Longueuil, Québec, with the largest dairy R&D center in Canada, the company said.

“We want to tap into the collective intelligence out there to help us stay at the cutting edge of dairy production and processing,” Agropur CEO Robert Coallier said.

QI: ‘Vector of mobilization’

"This project also draws on Montreal's creative ecosystem: The Quartier de l'innovation is a partner in the challenge and will host the participants," Coallier added.

Founded in 2009 and located in Montreal, QI bills itself as a creative, dynamic platform dedicated to the needs of innovative players throughout Canada with the aim of being a vector of mobilization for entrepreneurs seeking to innovate. 

"Innovation does not only occur in the realm of technology, as evidenced by this initiative, which will shed light on the many evolving paradigm shifts in a sector such as agrifood. The development of new dairy products together with Agropur, here in the heart of the Quartier de l'innovation, will undoubtedly establish Montreal as a key player in this constantly changing industry," Damien Silès, executive director of the Quartier de l'innovation, said.

Evaluation criteria

Agropur said it will evaluate proposals based on whether or not it offers North American consumers a new way to experience dairy and its ability to solve “real consumer needs.”

Submitted proposals must fall under one of the following themes: consumer health and nutrition, pleasure and indulgence, sustainability, enhance of culinary experience, or convenience.

The selected participants will each receive a C$25,000 (US$18,700) grant and gain access to Agropur’s R&D capabilities in order to bring their innovative concept to the market-ready stage.

The results of the co-development between Agropur, its program partners, and the selected class of participants will be presented at Agropur’s Inno Expo, to be held in April 2017.

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