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Meet the Innovators: Scott Aakre

April 20, 2023

People | The Originate Initiative

Scott Aakre, senior vice president of Brand Fuel, introduces The Originate Initiative

At Hormel Foods, originality and cutting-edge thinking are part of our DNA. It fuels our culture of innovation to create new products, enhance team member well-being and create a more sustainable future for our company and our planet.

Innovation has been at the heart of Hormel Foods for more than 130 years. George Hormel set the tone with his charge to “Originate. Don’t imitate.” From introducing America’s first canned ham in 1926 and the iconic SPAM® brand in 1937 to more recent innovations like Herdez® Guacamole Salsa and Hormel® Bacon 1™, we are still guided by our founder’s clear directive. We are building upon that legacy by launching The Originate Initiative.

The Originate Initiative is a call-to-action to all team members and partners of Hormel Foods around the world to continually push our uncommon company forward. It is also a way to explain and discuss all the ways in which innovation is built into our everyday work and thinking.

Today, the importance of innovative thinking can be seen everywhere at our production facilities and offices worldwide. Each year we introduce hundreds of new products in dozens of major markets. Behind every product and process are teams of engineers, packaging specialists and designers working tirelessly to ensure food safety, enhance processes, use fewer resources and deliver value. All team members have a leading role in innovation at Hormel Foods.

Our spirit of innovation goes far beyond our products. We have a team of changemakers who are organizing and advancing our processes, organizational structure and industry-leading sustainability efforts. These include global teams in R&D food science, consumer insights and innovation, cultural anthropology, food safety, global impact, business processes, engineering, operations and venture capital opportunities to invest in cutting-edge food technologies.

We established our Brand Fuel center of excellence to ensure our business decisions and investments are guided by the latest consumer trends and insightful market analysis. As a hub for new product creation, consumer insights-led innovation, and new technology, Brand Fuel will be the embodiment of our founder’s challenge.

The Originate Initiative will highlight and share the innovation in our products, processes and people. In addition, it will showcase our place at the center of the conversation about the future of the food industry. We’ll highlight our industry-leading efforts through monthly e-bulletins, multi-platform storytelling and other thought leadership opportunities while sparking conversations about what we can achieve tomorrow and beyond. Leading this conversation will help us stay ahead of market changes, identify promising partnerships, and forge bold strategies for the future.

Q&A Scott Aakre

What are your goals for The Originate Initiative?

The goal is to make sure that we’re talking about innovation across the enterprise, that we’re sharing the story of our success internally as well as to our external partners so they have a sense of all the great things we’re doing from a new product standpoint. And the story we want to tell is not only about new products, it’s about innovation in all our processes. The Originate Initiative is our opportunity to be thought leaders in the food industry. I think we were finally ready to speak a little louder about all the great work that goes on in Hormel Foods.

What does a culture of innovation at Hormel Foods mean to you?

I think it’s part of our DNA. There’s a lot of history within Hormel Foods and we’ve had 130-plus years of success. And I think it all does start with George Hormel saying ‘Originate, don’t imitate.’ That’s an important part of our culture going forward.

Innovation is something that we all need to embrace. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results doesn’t work. So we’ve increased the number of people we have who possess creative free minds to think about innovation and pipelines in a different way.

But everyone on our team needs to think about how do I innovate? Not just in the context of what’s the next new product, but how do I innovate the work I do, how do I think differently? And that’s the culture that we need to embrace and reinforce.

Can you tell us a little about the Brand Fuel team at Hormel Foods?

It’s a great team of people with specialized skills. We wanted to make sure that we had people who were thinking differently and we put them together so that they can really attack problems in a more agile and efficient way and bring value to the organization. We have our insights group, our analytics specialists, our digital experience group, brand designers, integrated brand experience experts all working together to solve problems. And I think the real goal there is to make sure that we innovate with more agility, with more alignment, and frankly, to make sure that we’re all focused on the same results. At a very high level, we want to make sure that our team is aligned to the goals and expectations of the business.

How does Brand Fuel track consumer trends?

We have a number of different ways that we collect information. We do primary research with our consumers and customers or operators. One of the important roles of Brand Fuel is bringing data to life to create insights. We also have a cultural anthropologist who provides us insights about how people shop and cook in their homes. All these methods combined bring us a deep understanding of what consumers are thinking and the role that food plays in their life.

Our job is to make sure that we take all of this information and put it together in ways that help us to think differently about the position of our brands, the role of our products, the importance that they play.

So what sort of trends are you discovering?

I think one of the things we’re seeing is that consumers are looking for an experience. For people today purchasing food is more than just a transaction. They think of food and eating as an experience. It could be experiences they have when they’re at home or when they go out. And so we want to make sure that the products we offer create a unique experience, whether it’s the way the product gets prepared or the way it’s shared among their family or friends.

We also know that consumers are also more focused on sustainability. And so we want to communicate all the sustainability initiatives we have across our company. We make sure that we’re getting the credit for making our products more sustainable in the way that they’re produced and packaged.

Learn more about The Originate Initiative