Rice company

Background information

This rice company is a family-owned business (SME) that started processing and commercializing rice from local growers in 1860. The range of products includes Italian rice selections, rice pasta, ready-made ‘risotto’ courses, a seasoning line, a rice bread line, a rapid rice line, rice drinks, and rice-based snacks and breakfast line.

Innovation behaviour

They have a strong orientation towards innovation, since the 1990s, when the problem of sustainability started to emerge (merging of retailers, protectionism, growth of ‘cheapest’ products). So the company strategy was to focus on the core business (rice), but changing its shape and ensuring a high quality. They created new ranges of products to satisfy, for example, the growing attention of consumers towards tasty and healthy products. They bought the most advanced machines and adopted a new approach to rice processing. In addition, any rice waste generated at every stage of the production process is re-used as raw material for further processes, e.g. used in a power plant to generate energy or to produce other products like rice oil.

Their knowledge is applied to continuously create new rice-based products(convenience food, functional foods).

External communication
  • They do not collect a lot of information on markets and customers, and rely on marketing research institutes when they need
  • The new products rapidly get on the market, as they are tested in a limited number of shops, and then refined, thanks to partnership with a few large retailers.
Internal communication
  • A product committee (including the president and CEO, the head of marketing, the head of purchasing, the communications manager, and the head of research and development) meets twice a month to develop ideas and generate new insights in the running product development projects. Ideas often derive from the feelings and experiences of any of their employees (chemists or food scientists and technologists are recognized as the ‘best innovators’). Employees are required to commitment to the company, and a portion of their salary varies depending on the company’s results. Personnel turnover is very low. Making mistakes is seen as necessary in the learning process.
  • They also have a verbal and social communication ‘culture’:
    •  Social events (mountain trips, BBQs, camping, etc.) are periodically organized, in order to foster interpersonal relationships, a collaborative environment, open communication, and knowledge sharing.
    • The company promotes a strong sense of commitment and belonging in its employees.
  • The role of communication technology is neglected:
    • The company has an information system to store sale data and information on production procedures and formulae
    • Their main storage ‘device’ seems to be human memory (turnover is very low)
Lessons learnt on communication during food innovation process
  • The company relies more on internal communication than on external communication. Innovation mostly come from internal initiatives than from information gathered from consumers.
  • Success factors for their effective communication within the company include both a formal communication strategy (product committee) and an informal communication culture (social events and strong sense of belonging from all employees).
  • The product committee is a multidisciplinary team.
References

Massa, S, Testa, S (2009). A knowledge management approach to organizational competitive advantage: Evidence from the food sector. European Management Journal, 27:129-141.