Kevin Myers wears many hats at Hormel Foods. He oversees product development, packaging, food safety, quality/process control and laboratory services. At Hormel Foods he has held six positions over the last 20 years, starting as a research scientist and moving on to group manager of product development, director of product, process and package development and eventually senior vice president. And he came to Hormel Foods with more than a decade of food industry experience in food technology, research science and new product development.
Myers is a native of Mount Ayr, Iowa. He earned his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. at Iowa State University. He serves on the board of advisors for two food safety organizations, is a member of two food technology associations and has published scientific papers on meat science. Beyond deep experience in the science of food, he also brings to Hormel Foods great enthusiasm for innovation and for developing new products.
Q&A Kevin Myers
There’s a lot of energy in the food startup world. Tens of thousands of new products a year. How is the style of innovation at Hormel Foods different?
The style of innovation at Hormel Foods really starts with the consumer. What is the consumer need and how can we meet that for the future? And those consumer needs are changing. Taking that to the next level for them is a key part of our innovation process. In some cases, we need to disrupt ourselves and make products that are going to change the products we’re currently making.
The other side of consumer innovation is just the fact that our scientists, engineers, everyone in our plants, are continuously working on what needs to change. How can we make things better? How can we improve products, processes and packaging for the future to meet those future consumer needs?
Where does innovation happen at Hormel Foods?
Innovation can really happen anywhere. Ideas come from a broad range of people, from our employees at the corporate offices to our plant locations, from our field sales teams and certainly from our customers as well. So just bringing all of those ideas together and working through our stage gate process to talk with a small team about getting those projects started. And then that really lets it kick off to a cross-functional team that can take that from the original idea all the way to a product on the shelf or with our customers.
What are the areas of innovation that you are most excited about in the near future?
There are many things to really be excited about. One of those is that we have a new Originate Center where we can scale up new products as we’re developing them. Secondly, I think the Innovation Center that we have now within our corporate complex really allows us to innovate with our customers at a much greater depth than we could before. And lastly, I would say our international teams are just knocking it out of the park with their innovation efforts over the last few years.
What trends are you tracking from a product innovation perspective?
Our Brand Fuel team is doing a great job of understanding consumer insights. Some that I see coming around are a continued focus on convenience items, which are always going to be there. I think portion size, sustainability, and health and wellness are areas that our consumers are really going to be engaged in and looking at in more depth going forward.
As a veteran of the company, what are you most proud of regarding the company’s innovation journey to date?
There are many things to be proud of as far as innovation at Hormel Foods. The one thing I’m most proud of is the fact that we’ve been able to generate 15% of our sales from new products over each of the last number of years. So that’s a great accomplishment by the cross-functional teams working on those projects.
How has Hormel Foods been an industry leader in creating shelf stable products and reducing food waste?
Hormel Foods has always been an industry leader in shelf stable products, and that started with George Hormel and Jay Hormel and their innovation efforts. And if you think about canned products, they really are simple products in many cases. SPAM® Classic only has six ingredients. So it allows consumers to use the product as they need and don’t have a short shelf life that they have to worry about. And those original innovations led us to further innovation outside of the can with products like Hormel® Compleats® microwave meals that allow us to get items to consumers in a convenient form that they can use at home, at work or in other locations.
What does a culture of innovation mean to you?
For me, a culture of innovation means that the whole team is focused on what we can do to really drive change, drive new products, drive new concepts to get to our consumers and meet our consumer needs for the future.