Bakers, food scientists and cereal chemists working in the grain-based foods industry are constantly being challenged to produce new products and formulations and engage the consumer base. Besides new product production, the term “innovation” can apply to developing new ingredient and new equipment technologies and unique services that your customers cannot live without. Your team strives to revolutionize the segment in which you are competing. So if you are starting with a blank slate, or challenged by marketing or sales, what is the innovation process?

Innovation takes time, not days or weeks but more typically months or years — not quite the answer management wants to hear. However, the process must be given enough time to succeed. Time must be built into the schedule for mistakes and missed deadlines that are often out of your control. Mistakes made during the innovation process are essential to success. We tend to learn more from mistakes than successes, and those learning experiences remain part of the corporate culture for a longer period of time.

When mistakes are made, we must take the time to review and analyze what caused the problems. Whether the mistake was made during the development process, in marketing focus groups or at the plant level, it doesn’t matter. The only bad mistake is the one you make tomorrow that you made today because you did not learn from that negative, often painful, situation.

True innovation does not focus on where line downtime or excess capacity exists in your production facilities. Innovation fills a consumer want or need. So who decides what is “useful”? It is not the c.e.o., vice-president of marketing or R&D working on a hunch. It is your customers and the consumers. In the wholesale/ retail environment, key national customers would be Target, Wal-Mart and large regional grocery chains.

Successful innovation requires customer and consumer research and turns this information into innovation platforms. Today health and wellness is one of the common innovation platforms for bakery and snack manufacturers, and they use this to dive into different categories such as “reduced sodium,” “made with whole grains” or “clean labels.”

Research findings vary but estimates are that more than half of innovation projects make little or no contribution to organizational goals. One product innovations survey stated that out of 3,000 ideas for new products, only one becomes successful in the marketplace. So why focus on innovation? Because when it works, it has big paybacks. The timeline for innovation is longer, but the growth potential is greater. The graph shows an example of how emerging technology used for innovation can enhance your payback in terms of increased sales and new customers.

So how do you buoy your chances for innovation success? Learn from the common causes of failure and from those who have tried before you and failed or those who continue to have success. Turn the Common Causes of Innovation Failure into positives. Here are the Five Steps to Successful Innovation:

1. Clearly define the innovation goal. 2. Align the action plan with the goal. 3. Participate in teams (marketing, R&D, engineering, operations, finance and purchasing). 4. Monitor results regularly with the entire team. 5. Communicate, communicate, communicate, and provide the team with access to project information, data and results.

Developing successful new products through a thriving innovation process takes time, energy and oversight. Partnering with suppliers to experiment with emerging technologies and ingredients typically adds to your ability to introduce new and unique products to the marketplace — and hopefully ones your consumers want and need.

When you get it right, the rewards are phenomenal.