Future innovation will rely on partnerships to overcome pandemic-related resource limitations

“Going through the last year, put a lot of stress on our system”​ just to keep the core operations moving, which required the redirection of resources that previously would have gone to research and development, Bryan Kreske, general manager of Hormel Foods Startup Incubator, acknowledged when asked about the lasting impacts of the pandemic on the food and beverage industry.

As such, he said, “we had to make a choice of design paths and where we were going to place priorities,”​ which meant pausing and pulling the plug on certain projects that Hormel was struggling to execute by itself. This included a project in the alternative protein space on which the company had worked since 2019, but which didn’t meet Hormel’s high standards, he noted.

While these decisions can be frustrating and disappointing, Kreske said Hormel “gained a lot of learnings and it really set the foundation for us figuring out our strategy in space.”

He explained this included evaluating the company’s core strengths and weaknesses and ultimately deciding to open “our aperture to look at partners, emerging companies, startups, and entrepreneurs in, what I would say are the generation two, three, and four in alternative proteins to leverage the work they’re doing and partner with us to find ways to collaborate and speed up our R&D efforts.”

He added: “There’s just some stuff that we don’t have the experience or capability to do,”​ and partnering provides a path forward.

Hormel’s Happy Little Plants brand launches with help from startup

For example, he said, Hormel decided during the pandemic to go “all in”​ on creating a plant-based pepperoni, which could leverage the “DNA of Hormel foods, which was one of the original products that George Hormel created 130 years ago, which was dry sausage.”

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