The Innovation Machine @Groupe SEB


When you look at the evolution of everyday household goods, you see the power of innovation and its societal impact.  Take the clothes iron, for example.

One hundred years ago, the clothes iron was a heavy metal object that you’d have to heat on the fire, and then use your muscle power to push it around hard enough to flatten your clothing wrinkles.  I’m sweating just thinking about it!

Even today in some countries, clothes irons are powered by coal and ironing services are offered on roadside stands.

Yet we’ve made enough progress elsewhere that now companies are designing clothes irons for men, the type of men that like power tools.  I just read the other day about a new black, “fun-to-use” iron specifically for you guys!  (BTW, women like black too, but oh well.  Go for it!)

Copyright Photographe : Philippe SCHULLER.
Copyright Photograph : Philippe SCHULLER.

Now it just so happens that Jean-Christophe Simon, the director of innovation for Groupe SEB, the world leader in small household equipment, will speak at Tuesday’s National Innovation Directors Meetings

And since we’re all consumers of these products, I thought it would be interesting to see what SEB has to say about the group’s ‘innovation machine’ and the future of household equipment innovations.

Here you go:

1. Your Group includes 20 brands, and of those six are worldwide. They represent a lot of household products! Groupe SEB today sells how many different products?

JCS: With our portfolio of diversified and complementary brands, Groupe SEB is present in both the small electrical appliance sector and cookware.  The development of global markets means a certain degree of standardization of offers but also multiplicity of local usage makes it vital to adapt and respond to specific local needs.

The Group sells approximately 200 million products per year in approximalty 150 countries.

2. You must have a serious ‘innovation machine’ to bring so many products to market. What’s your secret?

JCS: Innovation is part of the Groupe SEB DNA for more than 150 years and our history is paved by a succession of innovative products (1917 electric iron, 1953 pressure cooker seb, 1967 electric odour free deep fryer…). It is not by chance that one of our five group values, shared by all of our 20,500 employees, is “Passion for Innovation”.

Innovation at Groupe SEB is very diverse: it can be functional, technological, marketing; it can also come from partnership agreements.
Innovation is always guided by our brands and our different ranges offer genuine product benefits that are tangible for the consumer: breakthrough innovation, ease of use, high-tech performance, timesaving, ergonomics, elegant design, handy storage…

Groupe SEB has R&D centers either dedicated to our business units, to specific product ranges or to key technologies for the group. We have approximalty 750 people dedicated to R&D.  These people work in close cooperation with marketing teams according to various development models in order to handle all types of products and market segments appropriatly.

We register around 100-150 patents and launch 200 new products per year.
In 2009, we invested 60 M€ in R&D.

3. Do you use 3D software and collaborative research platforms to invent your products? If so, how does this impact your innovation cycle? If not, why?

JCS: No software and collaborative research platform at present, but we are benchmarking some systems. Of course we are using PLM software for product engineering.

4. What’s the long-term future of household products, and what needs to happen to get us there? Can you give a specific product example?

JCS: The small domestic appliance market in mature countries is spurred by a new demand for higher-status products as well as the increasing volume of cheaply mass-produced products coming from Asia. Consumers are ready to pay for innovation only if it provides a clear benefit to them (i.e. Actifry, Silence Force). In these mature markets, new consumption trends also create opportunities for new product categories (i.e. seniors, environmental products).

The emerging markets represent an enormous potential of growth with new customers willing to fit out with high performance products. These markets, where the local actors are more and more competitive, require not only standardized products but also very specific ones (wok, soya bean milk maker, chapati grill, arepas makers…).

5. Where does the ‘innovation industry’ need to innovate?

JCS: The mid-range and top-range segments use innovation and expertise to re-dynamize markets with products that stand out from cheaply mass-produced and increasingly commonplace articles.

This is clearly the stance adopted by Groupe SEB which, as a leader in its sector, strives not only to enhance the quality of the present offer, but also to develop the potential of the small household equipment market.

Merci beaucoup Jean-Christophe!

I hope that you enjoyed my interviews with the innovation directors from Groupe SEB, Areva and Aldebaran Robotics.  Next stop, the conference Tuesday!

Bon weekend,