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Leading People: How Jitendra Sagili brings leadership to our Innovation and Food technology discipline with pride, vision, and passion

Jitendra Sagili, Chief Innovation & Food Technology Officer

Jitendra’s extensive background in creating diverse food product designs is a key driver for elevating and accelerating Innovation and Food technology discipline in Maple Leaf Foods’ meat and plant-based protein businesses.

Jitendra Sagili is the Chief Innovation & Food Technology Officer at Maple Leaf Foods, an expanded role he recently transitioned into with the formation of our Accelerate Centre of Excellence under the direction of our President and Chief Growth Officer, Casey Richards.

Jitendra joined Maple Leaf Foods eight years ago as Vice President for Product Development. He subsequently took on additional responsibilities for Food Process Technology and Packaging Technologies, becoming the Chief R&D and Food Technology Officer, leading the meat protein Research, Development and Technology (RDT) team as well as our Greenleaf Foods RDT team based in Chicago, Illinois, a key part of Maple Leaf Foods’ family of brands. Under the Greenleaf umbrella, you’ll find delicious plant-based brands like LightLife® and Field Roast™.

Read on to learn more about Jitendra’s mission to lead Innovation and Food Technology at Maple Leaf Foods.

What brought you to Maple Leaf Foods and what has made you stay here?

The company’s dedication to creating great-tasting, nutritious and sustainable protein products caught my attention. As someone with a deep interest in revolutionizing the food industry with similar aspirations, I knew that this was an organization I could wholeheartedly support and be a part of.

As I began working at Maple Leaf Foods, I found that the company’s core values and principles were aligned with my own. These values include high performance, diversity, transparency, accountability, and doing what’s right, among others. The company’s commitment to sustainability and social responsibility is evident in everything we do. From reducing the carbon footprint to sourcing ingredients responsibly, our company is a leader in the industry when it comes to sustainable business practices.

What has kept me at Maple Leaf Foods is the company’s purpose-driven business growth and as well as the leadership’s commitment to fostering a workplace culture that encourages employees to reach their full potential. I’m proud to be part of the team at Maple Leaf Foods that’s committed to innovation and creating products that address the needs of both consumers and the planet. With our highly versatile protein product platforms, I’m continuously challenged to develop new ideas and solutions, making a meaningful contribution to the company and to the food industry.

As we enter our next growth focused chapter, what part will your role play in our new Accelerate Center of Excellence? 

My role in the new “Accelerate Center of Excellence” is to drive commercial growth through the development of innovative products. My team’s expertise in identifying unmet consumer needs and implementing emerging food, ingredient, process, and packaging technologies will be instrumental in accelerating our growth and driving us towards our strategic growth objectives.

Deep collaboration, agility, adaptability, and accountability are key factors in achieving success in this role. I’m both humbled and thrilled to have the opportunity to work closely with the leaders of our Accelerate team, Commercial team, Supply chain team, and other cross-functional disciplines, to ensure that we achieve our shared goals together.

If we fast forward three years, what do you hope you will have accomplished in that time through your role and Accelerate’s collaborative environment? 

As a company, we’re relying on the Accelerate team to drive substantial business growth over the next three years. Our vision entails the development of a robust “accelerate engine,” capable of launching multiple successful products in the market, tapping into new customer and consumer bases, and generating incremental revenue. Our objective is to establish a well-defined innovation pipeline cadence, accompanied by aligned KPIs and other success metrics that will guarantee ongoing growth and a competitive edge. In three years’ time, I predict we’ll have leveraged our “accelerate engine” to drive substantial growth for our company.

Your new role involves enabling winning innovation via new food and packaging technologies, process, and partnerships. How do you approach this complex role? 

Innovation needs to be ingrained in our culture and in our company’s DNA. Delivering successful, sustained innovation meeting consumer unmet needs, changing lifestyles and demographics is a dynamic and multifaceted challenge that demands a strategic and insight driven approach. In my perspective, there are three key principles that guide my work in this area.

The first principle is to leverage the expertise of our internal commercial and supply chain teams, as well as external suppliers, customers, and start-ups, to test product concepts, scale and generate revenue. By partnering with external technology, supplier, co-man, marketing companies, we can gain diverse perspectives and capabilities in a cost-effective way, enabling us to identify new opportunities and maintain our competitive edge.

The second principle is prioritization. With so much noise and so many opportunities out there, it’s crucial that we remain focused on our key objectives. However, these priorities can change rapidly, and we must be prepared to adapt quickly to shifting market conditions and consumer needs. By prioritizing ruthlessly and focusing on what matters the most, we can ensure that we deliver impactful and innovative solutions creating optimal value for our consumers, our customers, and our company.

Finally, the third principle is inspiration. To succeed in driving innovation, we need to inspire every stakeholder in this ecosystem to believe in our vision and demonstrate that it is achievable. By creating a culture of innovation and agility, we can empower our teams to think creatively, take risks, and experiment with new approaches. In my team, we operate as a network of individuals, working collaboratively rather than in a hierarchical structure, to foster a culture of innovation and agility. This approach enables us to identify new opportunities, rapidly develop and commercialize new products, and stay ahead of the curve in the industry.

You Chair the Innovation & Technology Council. Can you tell us about that Council and how it operates?

As the Executive Chair of the Innovation & Technology Council, my primary responsibility is to bring together our senior leadership across the organization to promote innovation and accomplish our business objectives. I am grateful for this leadership opportunity and by spearheading this initiative, I’ve facilitated cross-functional collaboration and knowledge sharing among our leadership team, resulting in a culture of innovation and forward-thinking throughout the organization. The Council operates by monitoring emerging consumer trends and technologies, assessing their potential impact on our business, and crafting actionable strategies that capitalize on our strengths to deliver innovative products and solutions to the market. Through this forum, we’ve successfully fostered an environment of accelerated innovation, leading to the launch of numerous pioneering products that are the first of their kind in North America.