Come into my house

Symrise and Unilever are raising their collaboration to a new level. The Flavor Division has set up an innovation lab in the heart of the Unilever Foods Innovation Centre. The result is increased exchange, proximity to research, shorter distances and faster agreements.

Where do the best ideas come from? They come from places where people with recognized expertise in various fields congregate when they have a shared passion and a common goal. This kind of creative space is on view at the Wageningen University & Research campus in the Netherlands. Unilever’s “Hive” Innovation Centre is located on the Food Campus. Symrise and the manufacturer of consumer goods have been practicing a new form of cooperation here since June. “This approach will enable our companies to optimally integrate and develop new products together in a creative and efficient manner,” says Heinrich Schaper, President Flavor Division at Symrise. “Additionally, we benefit from the scientific expertise of the world’s best food researchers.”

SHORT DISTANCES Behind the integrated business model is a future-oriented concept that raises the partners’ business relationship to a new level. Unilever founded the Innovation Centre, and Symrise has its own lab there, as well as an application kitchen and meeting rooms over a total of 120 square meters. Gérald Delettre, Vice President Global Account Unilever Group, is certain that, “Our common location in Wageningen encourages our capacity for innovation.” In a way, it’s a branch office – this form of collaboration is part of an “ecosystem approach,” as Unilever calls it. Several partners work together in close physical proximity. “And as the Flavor House, we’re a part of it,” says Christoph Götzel, Global Account Director Unilever Foods. “Previously, we developed our product ideas in our own application labs in Holzminden and then introduced them to the customer in their rooms or ours. Now we have nearly all of Unilever’s sales products here on site,” adds Marian Kempf, Business Support Unilever Foods.

Our common ­location in Wageningen boosts our capacity for innovation.

Gérald Delettré, Vice President Global Account Unilever Group

This has resulted in short distances and personal encounters in the course of everyday business. If Unilever colleagues are looking for a sample, they just knock on the door. Symrise employees take the sample out of the cabinet and can immediately provide them with a dosage and a price. “If necessary, we even apply it and taste it ourselves in our kitchen,” elaborates Bastian Bauer, Regional Key Account Manager Unilever Foods EAME. “Before now, something like this was not remotely possible.”

This new way of collaborating can be demonstrated using the example of a joint project with “The Vegetarian Butcher.” This company is part of the Unilever universe and produces food including vegan burger patties and vegan chicken nuggets. A burger with a new grill flavor was to be developed. The key account team surrounding Christoph, Bastian and Marian initially coordinated with application experts and a flavorist in order to better understand the briefing and to clear up open questions.

The customer sent along a burger patty that tasted close to what was desired, plus information regarding dosage and a cost range for the finished flavor. “This all has to be cleared up before we begin our work,” says Marian. When the tasting of the potentially final product sample had been completed and everybody was satisfied, the Flavor specialists met with the Butcher experts for a workshop in the Hive to taste the prepared customer samples from Holzminden. “We got their comments and modification requests right away so we could adjust the samples immediately,” says Marian. Based on the same procedure, second and third tasting rounds followed the first one – all on the same day. Bastian explains, “If procedures can be taken up and implemented within a few minutes or hours, it makes them very efficient.” In addition to saving time and costs, products can be brought to market much faster.

The product developers from Vegetarian Butcher tasted and optimized the Symrise solutions in their products directly on-site.

Intro Clip Unilever Team for Wageningen

LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER “This new way of working is also a testament to our partnership, which has existed for years,” Gérald sums up. Christoph adds, “We’re on a completely different level with the customer. When someone comes to pick something up from us, we talk about other current projects and sound out possibilities for further collaboration.” This is part of Hive’s concept.

The concentration of expertise and creativity on the campus is ideal for kick-starting cross-departmental project and development work on big topics that conform to the zeitgeist, such as climate protection, prevention of food waste and counteraction of obesity and malnutrition. Another topic is the reduction of sugar and salt in food. Symrise and Unilever researchers get together in the Hive to develop new, innovative product ideas.

Symrise also organizes training sessions on different subjects for Unilever product developers. In June, a flavorist explained what is really behind the flavors, what sensory qualities are and what kinds of flavor exist. She outlined the criteria that must be used to described taste so that flavorists and application technologists work with specifics in mind. “It’s not enough to say it tastes good or it doesn’t taste good,” says Bastian.

September’s training sessions focused in detail on sustainability. Using onion and vanilla as examples, discussions were held on how producers, customers and consumers benefit from sustainable solutions. These training sessions are currently taking place virtually but will be offered in person in the future.

This new way of collaborating might also be possible with other customers. The intention is that the exchange of knowledge with customers and research institutes at a common location will become a successful model. The integrated model already works well with Unilever. “Though we’re just at the beginning of our development, I think the many advantages of this collaboration have already become apparent,” Gérald sums up.

What is the integrated model?


1 How important is this approach for the development of Flavor? The integrated business model is extremely important to our relationship with Unilever. It pays off in our efforts to work with customers through cooperation based on partnerships. Unilever also shares this philosophy: Being present locally is an unbelievable advantage. We have a lot of influence and can expand and advance our cooperation in the food industry.

2 How does this approach change the traditional customer relationship? The key point is integrated working methods and even closer cooperation. Being at the Wageningen site helps Symrise to be more involved. Ultimately, this brings us closer to Unilever’s value chain and its brands, seamlessly expanding their development opportunities. We are part of the family..

3 Can the concept be transferred to other areas? Yes – there are already examples where we have developed new models for cooperation with several global key account customers (GKA). Integrated resources, closer cooperation and speedy execution confirm that these working methods are making a difference in the way our GKA are managed. It is fair to say that the trust and skills that Symrise has developed are making such a development possible. And this is not just limited to Flavor. It is important that the decision for an integrated model is a joint undertaking in which common goals and aspirations for growth are the essence of a sustainable partnership.

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