The food industry, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), is facing increasingly complex challenges, more regulation, as well as fierce local and global competition. Open innovation (OI) can enhance innovation options by accessing external assets and collaborations with unique opportunities, facilitating partnerships, and alleviating hurdles such as limited resources, R&D expertise, skills, etc. Highlighted topics include: adapting OI for the food industry's special needs, with a focus on SMEs' unique challenges, and the roles of academia and intellectual property. Examples provided depict SMEs with typical OI utilization and the steps required to initiate and develop new concepts. Specific recommendations include: collaboration, creation of a four-helix innovation ecosystem (industry, academia, government, and private sector), metrics to quantify academia's social responsibility, and revised curricula promoting OI to encourage SMEs involvement. OI presents a unique opportunity for all stakeholders, especially for SMEs, to proactively engage in meeting future challenges and opportunities. © 2016 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.