Rethinking Innovation Through A People-Focused Lens

Mark Piper outlines the fine art of innovation for business survival.

27 Oct 2020

4 min

#All Categories #New Zealand #Innovation

For decades, industries across the world have moved into an innovation-driven business model, but in the pursuit for growth, a common misconception has emerged.

Mark Piper | Director of Category Strategy & Innovation

Companies often look towards innovation to drive growth in today’s fast changing environment, however sustainable growth involves much more than simply thinking of new products. The recent fall-out from COVID-19 has emphasised that people and culture are some of the most important keys to driving innovation.

We have found that trust established from long-standing customer relationships have been the key to unlocking joint opportunities as businesses start to regain their footing and relook at their innovation pipelines. This requires a people focused approach to innovation, where insights-driven business decisions focus on empathy and care, ensuring our customers (and their consumers’) needs are front of mind during these uncertain times. So, what are the key take-aways from our people focused approach?

2 people inside lab

Embracing our diversity

In an interconnected world driven by globalisation, it is hard to overlook the importance of diversity. According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, companies with a more diverse management team achieved 19 percent higher revenues as a result of increased innovation. With a team of more than 350 people, representing over 40 nationalities, Fonterra’s Research and Development Centre (FRDC) leverages diversity to its advantage.

Working in such a diverse environment has shown me that disruptive ideas seldom occur when members from the same background with similar perspectives come together.

Mark Piper | Director of Category Strategy & Innovation

The complexities of our products require us to work in cross-functional teams, with employees from a wealth backgrounds. The unique perspectives offered by Fonterra’s diverse set of teams have sparked some of the most resilient and effective solutions observed in the dairy industry.

Our customers have often told us we are recognised as a pioneer in dairy protein innovation, having led the development of critical advances over the past century. A key example was the world’s first heat-stable whey protein which was invented in 2012, which has since been successfully applied to a range of convenient and nutritious products which revolutionised both sports performance and medical nutrition solutions.

Encourage risk taking & experimentation

We know that companies that take risks with new thinking can differentiate themselves from competitors, however the fear of failure can often cause businesses to hold back. We have embraced innovation by actively encouraging employees to think creatively and push boundaries, by cultivating an environment that welcomes a healthy level of risk and experimentation.

By challenging the status quo, we also show that we are willing to embrace experimentation. This type of culture can only be developed over time.

Related reading...


Reaching Mainstream Protein Consumers


Probiotics unlock exciting next frontier in wellness


NZMP Pro-Optima™ answers call for high-protein yogurts without compromise

Two men outside factory

Learning new skills through open innovation

Companies still find it challenging to deliver a consistent pipeline of innovation due to the rapid pace of technological transformations, complex product ecosystems, and evolving consumer needs.

By adopting a model of open innovation, Fonterra’s Research & Development Centre has been able to leverage the strength of external players in search of solutions to common goals. This remains particularly relevant in the current global climate where innovative ideas are in high demand due to unprecedented global challenges.

For Fonterra and NZMP, partnerships with food companies, universities, start-ups and research institutes have shown to be an important driver for our growth. This is something we continue to invest in to support future innovation.

Putting the human touch back into innovation

We have always believed that the real enablers of disruption and growth are our people – not the technology. Companies that embrace this belief can create a positive shift in corporate culture that will last for years to come.

Originally published on Asia Pacific Food Industry magazine, Click through here.

Want to partner with us for your next product innovation? 

The interviewee

Mark Piper

Director of Category Strategy & Innovation

In the 27 years Mark has been with Fonterra he has worked in the manufacture of casein and cheese, coordinated supply chain activities for sales into Japan and Korea, managed a technical team for Fonterra Japan and was a Product Group Manager for Fonterra’s global cheese business. Mark moved to Chicago in 2010 and was the Regional Director Ingredients Americas for Fonterra before relocating back to New Zealand in January 2016 to head up the Transformation Office for Fonterra.

In February 2017, Mark relocated to Palmerston North to head up Fonterra’s Global Research & Development teams. Mark was appointed to a new role of Director Category, Strategy and Innovation in December 2019. Mark and his team work closely with Fonterra’s regional teams to deliver on our strategy through category management and innovation.

Mark has a Diploma in Dairy Technology and has completed the Global Advanced Management Program at Kellogg Business School (Northwestern University).

Receive the latest NZMP news, insights & updates direct to your inbox