How five food and beverage brands use digital to innovate

Every week we bring you the FreshMinds Friday picks – ideas to help you make the most of digital technologies and understand how they are helping brands to grow and innovate. This week we’re looking at five large  food and beverage companies that are really pushing the boundaries in their industry, using digital technologies to drive this innovation – including Starbucks, Coca Cola, AB InBev, Nestle and Cadbury.


Starbucks have been one of the most innovative companies in the food and beverage industry for quite some time. Way back in 2008 they broke new ground with My Starbucks Idea, an open online community that allows customers to share their ideas how Starbucks should innovating their offering – be that with regard to new product development, customer experience or social responsibility. Starbucks has since turned its hand to leading innovation in the payments space. Recognising that digital technologies have changed consumer expectations and led to a desire for a faster and more convenient payment process, Starbucks have introduced new and innovative payment methods. Not only have they partnered with Square in the US and developed an app to facilitate mobile payment in-store, but they’ve also launched the Tweet-A-Coffee service, an initiative that harnesses social technologies so customers can send a £5 gift card to their friends.


Here at FreshMinds, we’ve been really excited about the potential of 3D printers to change business as we know it – listing our top 5 applications of the technology back in November. Cadbury’s have also been quick to tap into 3D printing, employing it as part of their new product development process. Using 3D printers, they’ve been able to turn their ideas into 3D models and then into edible prototypes within a matter of days. Innovating the new product development process in this way has allowed Cadbury’s to create and test prototypes more rapidly and cheaply than any of their competitors, positioning them as a as a leader in their field.


Coca Cola have made headlines recently for making a conscious effort to innovate their existing business model to foster new growth – particularly with regard to devising marketing campaigns and developing new products. Last year they recognised the power of crowdsourcing for obtaining inspiration for their latest brand campaign. By working with crowdsourcing platform eYeka, they were able to obtain over 3000 different interpretations of their new brand positioning from consumers in the form of videos, drawing and photos. These fed into the brand campaign, with one even being released as part of Coke’s marketing campaign in Asia. Coca Cola has also been at the forefront of innovation in product development. Their FreeStyle machine allows customers to mix flavours to create a unique drink. Not only is this a great example of mass-personalisation but it’s also a great example of co-creation with customers. The FreeStyle machine syncs with an app that allows consumers to save their favourite drinks, providing Coke with the perfect route to gain feedback on which flavor combinations appeal to their target market.


Like Coca Cola, KitKat have also positioned itself a leader in innovation, by harnessing the power of the crowd. The chocolate manufacturer crowdsourced the flavour of their new KitKat Chunky by asking fans to vote on potential concepts on Facebook. The success of this innovative crowdsourcing initiative was two-fold. Not only did it enable KitKat to ensure they developed a flavor that would sell, but the buzz the strategy generated on social media went a long way to promoting the product. To really embrace crowdsourcing and maximise its impact on the innovation process going forwards, KitKat would do well to follow Coke’s example. By sourcing the initial concepts from consumers, rather than just getting them to select from a preselected list, KitKat would be able to obtain new and creative perspectives from outside the organisation.

AB InBev

Innovation is high on AB InBev’s agenda and they’ve recognised that by partnering with people from outside their organisation, they’ll be able to source new and innovative ideas. On their website, they’ve created an Open Innovation Portal, which lists both specific briefs and general areas of interest and encourages individuals to submit their solutions. According to the Open Innovation Portal, digital innovation is high on the priority list. Focusing on this area is already yielding return. Last year, AB InBev harnessed digital technologies to run a weather-dependent advertising campaign for Stella Artois Cidre. By using weather data, the AB InBev was able to ensure that the ads displayed as soon as there was a two degree rise in temperature – an innovative use of technology that allowed the company to target customers just at the point at which they were susceptible to buy.