Food is the world’s largest industry, and we believe design has vital role to play in the global challenges it faces today. EXPO Milano 2015 this June we brought together some of the leading figures in the industry to discuss design-driven innovation in the food industry.

The panel we put together included speakers from FoodDrinkEurope, Barilla and Nestlé, alongside renowned design agency Hatch & Bloom. Seminar attendees spanned public administration, policymaking and business – and were also invited to share their take on the strategic role of design in the food industry.

Event photos

For all our keynote speakers design-driven innovation represented an important driver of growth – a key way to improve business strategy, and vital to creating great products and services.

Mark Nicklas – European Commission

Mark Nicklas, who is Deputy Head of the European Commission’s Innovation Policy and Investment Unit, opened the session by highlighting the importance of making design an integral part of business operations and innovation processes.

From an EC point of view, Nicklas explained that design was a lever to boost competitiveness, something the EC was committed to supporting across all the EU’s regions. Particularly valuable is the way that the design process can shape emerging products and services, bringing them closer to user desires and therefore creating market impact.

Design is a tool to bring new ideas to the market. We have many good ideas in Europe, but if we are not capable of bringing them to the market, they will have no impact at all. Moreover, today it’s not really about products anymore. It’s about solutions that address users’ needs. This is design: integrating the users’ needs from the start of the process.

Mark Nicklas
Deputy Head of Unit, Innovation Policy for Growth – European Commission

The desire to boost the use of design is part of a reaction to the current state of European industry and innovation. Nicklas quoted the recently released European Innovation scoreboard which showed that, although Europe as a whole is catching up with US and Japan, in the short-term half of the European Member States have decreased their innovation performance.

To make clear the potential for growth, he closed by sharing the results of the EC’s recent Innobarometer survey. This showed that 62% of European companies use design, but only 31% use it as a key part of their business strategy.

Beate Kettlitz – FoodDrinkEurope

Beate Kettlitz, Director of Food Policy, Science and R&D at FoodDrinkEurope began by outlining how increasing economic and population growth, alongside social and technological development, had boosted global food production and consumption, especially within emerging countries.

Kettlitz noted that this represents a significant challenge, but should also be considered as an opportunity for European industry to achieve market growth and a stimulus for new sustainable business models.
As part of her presentation she quoted a report by research company XTC which cited pleasure as the principal driver of innovation in Europe’s food industry – the others being: health, convenience and ethics. Kettlitz saw design as being able to contribute in each of these areas, helping companies create new products and services that are user-centric.

One of the most important drivers for innovation in the food sector is pleasure. This is what Italy is an example of, and what design could contribute to.

Beate Kettlitz
Director of Food Policy, Science and R&D at FoodDrinkEurope

In her talk Kettlitz reminded the audience that food products have always been designed, but this has often been restricted to packaging, logos, fonts and colours rather than an innovative way of thinking. From her perspective, design is a catalyst of innovation, economic growth and job creation – something that helps organisations compete in a global marketplace by providing user-driven solutions.

Victoria Spadaro-Grant – Barilla

Spadaro-Grant is Chief R&D and Quality Officer at Barilla and, citing Barilla as an example, reinforced the importance of connecting design thinking with business innovation.

She described embedding design thinking within the company as a major cultural change, with many leaps of faith along the way. For big organisations like Barilla, the innovation process had traditionally been straightforward but somewhat limited in scope. This process had been based on the assumption that a problem could be completely understood at the outset, and that the first solution arrived at could be successfully iterated and modified to solve the problem.

Today, things are done differently. Spadaro-Grant explained that what Barilla sees as the strength of design is the ability to manage more dramatic and often more unpredictable iterative innovation processes. Here the first iterations are usually about getting to grips with the problem itself and understanding user needs. Barilla is now incorporating this new approach into many of their internal processes, changing the way departments communicate and collaborate.

Design is about changing the mindset of an organisation. It means going from a traditional way of doing business to a new way that truly understands the problems of users and designs the best possible solutions for them.

Victoria Spadaro-Grant
Chief R&D and Quality Officer – Barilla

Emily Boniface – Nestlé

Designer Emily Boniface’s talk explored packaging design and Nestlé’s inclusive approach to product innovation. The process of building an understanding of people's needs and their physical capabilities was at the heart of her presentation about her team’s redesign of the Nestlé’s Black Magic brand of chocolate.
She shared with the audience the different phases of the project, from user observation and analysis, to prototyping and then through to the final product launch. The key insight of this project was that Black Magic chocolates were most popular amongst the over 60s, so it was important for Emily’s team to respond to the needs of this demographic.

I believe design is about understanding people. If you don’t understand who you are designing for, you will never achieve something they will ultimately desire.

Emily Boniface
Designer – Nestlé

Her team developed new graphics, packaging and labelling that made huge improvements to the speed and ease with which people could open the box, identify a chocolate from the selection and pick it up from the tray. She laid out the “eight small changes that created one big difference”, the result being new inclusive packaging that could help Nestlé reach 1.83 million new customers: customers who would have been unable to manage the fiddly cellophane wrapper, unwieldy plastic tray and small print that hampered the experience of the old product.

Lotte Lyngsted Jepsen – Hatch & Bloom

The discussion moved from products to services with a talk by Lotte Lyngsted Jepsen, Insight Director and Partner at design agency Hatch & Bloom.

Jepsen’s talk made the case for why design is vital to the creation of high quality public services, using Hatch & Bloom’s work on The Good Kitchen as an example of a successful user-centred approach to service design.
Working with the Holstebro municipality in Denmark, Hatch & Bloom redesigned the state-funded meal delivery service for senior citizens who struggled to cook for themselves. It’s a service with great potential to improve the lives of many elderly people for whom the delivery of regular healthy meals can have a significant impact on their wellbeing.

The service ideation was very participative – designers worked with citizens through ethnographic research, discussing and analysing people's behaviours and needs. Through this process they got to understand how users of the service spent their time whilst eating the delivered meals and their attitudes towards it.

Design is about simple solutions to dynamic challenges. The more daily challenges become complex, the more we need to implement solutions that are as simple as possible.

Lotte Lyngsted Jepsen
Insight Director & Partner – Hatch & Bloom

Crucially, workshops were conducted with the citizens and many of the people involved in running the service including, for example, the kitchen staff. The results of this dialogue had an impact on all parts of the service: the communication, the menu size, the recipes, the packaging and the means of interaction with the service provider.

Thanks to the service design intervention, the municipality increased the number of customers by 20% and sales of healthy meals went up 78%.

Event report by Beatrice Villari and Marzia Mortati from Politecnico di Milano who organised this event on behalf of Design for Europe.