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1. The product
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2. The organisation of
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3. Product strategy
development: idea
generation and

4. Product strategy
development: product
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5. Product design and
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Product Strategy Development:
Idea Generation and Screening


Ideas come from both a 'technology push' and a 'consumer pull'. The technology push comes from knowledge of marketing, processing and product technology and their related scientific bases. The consumer pull comes from knowledge of the consumers and their individual and societal bases.

Case Study 3
Food Companies Hunt for the Next Big Thing

About twice a month teams from giant food companies travel along a dusty gravel road to a large warehouse - the New Products Showcase and Learning Center, Ithaca, a morgue of sorts storing 60,000 extinct grocery products. They are hunting for ideas for the next blockbuster.

Food companies are starving for new ideas. Launches of new foods in the USA fell 20% in 1996, their sharpest decline in at least two decades. After the 1980s' round of mergers, food research departments shrank, and food patents filed in the USA by foreign companies began to eclipse those of domestic researchers.

Admittedly, finding a supermarket blockbuster has become much harder; most of the easy innovations have already been introduced. New demands stemming from technology and health worries also have generally been met. Essentially the American companies have mastered the science of mass production and become expert in off-the-rack edibles. But many 'new' products of the 1990s were just the tweaking of old ones. Many of the promising up-scale products are percolating in from foreign laboratories. The American food industry is increasingly looking outside the USA for cutting-edge technologies.

Breakthroughs have been elusive partly because food companies devote only 0.6 - 0.7% of sales to research and development - less than half the percentage of other consumer products such as toothpaste. Also products need to have large markets to be acceptable to the large food companies; this means large launch costs and also ignoring small markets which may grow into large markets in the future.

A real innovation requires a clear benefit that can be patented - but that process can take years, cost a fortune, and for all the trouble end up simply making consumers wary. Proctor and Gamble suffered that fate with its rocky introduction of snack chips fried with olestra. Many promising new products have lacked ingredients and processes innovative enough to win patents, so they end up slaughtered by me-too products.

(From Michael J. McCarthy, (1997) 'Food companies hunt the "Next big thing" but few can find one', Wall Street Journal, 6 May.) Reprinted by permission of the Wall Street Journal© 1997 Dow Jones & Company Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Think Break 3.2
Systematic focused idea generation: new products launched in the 1990s

A drop in new food products launched continued through the 1990s, but then started to rise again after 2000. What do you think started this turn around?

Identify the major new products that were introduced.

Do you think the trend will continue and in what product areas?

Figure 3.2 Idea generation: technology push and consumer pull

Technology push
  Technology opportunities    
Idea generation Synthesis of consumer needs and technological means
Consumer and market needs
Consumer pull

The consumer needs analysis includes the relation of present products to user needs, defects in present products, unfulfilled needs. Consumer concerns have been a strong pull in the 1990s, with the proliferation of 'deprivation foods' low in sugar, salt and fat, nutritional foods offering supplements of proteins, minerals and vitamins, functional foods offering physiological benefits and/or reductions in the risk of chronic disease beyond nutritional needs, and pharmaceutical foods (nutriceuticals) offering health benefits.

The technology sources include the scientific and technical literature, R&D scientists in the company, universities and research organisations, the production, engineering and quality assurance staff in the company, and the raw material and equipment suppliers. In small companies, it tends to come from production and engineering staff, in the large company from the R&D department.

The marketing sources include competition, overseas markets, sales journals, consumers, consumer books and magazines, advertising agencies, market research companies, distributors (wholesalers, retailers, food service, agents, brokers), sales personnel and marketing people in the company. This information includes market trends, new product introductions, market needs and market analysis. Retailers may see a need for further brands of a certain product, and they can under their own brands copy a product already on the market to supply this need.

The market can be analysed by studying trends in sales, by gap analysis to see if there is a product missing, by measuring shelf space to see if a product line needs to be extended, and by comparison testing with competing products to see if the company's product needs to be improved. The company can set up a product matrix of their own and competing products, i.e. product classes, product lines and individual products, to discover gaps into which the company can introduce a new product.

The company is continuously monitoring the 'feel' of the market by doing market research, including retail audits and consumer studies. Sales trends and information from supermarket sales are now extensively available and analysed. More general information can be found on business and economic trends from banks and consultants, and on social changes from social studies reports by government or academics.

Think Break 3.3
Systematic focused idea generation: technological changes in the food channel

What innovations in agriculture, processing, packaging, distribution and marketing led to the production and marketing of canned and frozen fruits and vegetables?

What present-day innovations in agriculture, processing, packaging, distribution and marketing have led to increasing sales of fresh fruit and vegetable products?

There are two significant groups in food production – the food processors who supply the food ingredients and the food manufacturers who produce the final consumer products.

Many ideas in the food manufacturing industry come from the ingredient suppliers, the food processors, who not only supply the ingredients but increasingly supply the formulation and also the relevant consumer and market research. So where do the food processors find their ideas for new ingredients? Very often from new agricultural and marine products and from their studies of the manufacturers' needs and wants, as well as from their basic research. The food processors cooperate with the agricultural and marine primary producers in developing new raw materials, and with the food manufacturers in developing their ingredient products and their applications. Therefore they do much of the research in the food industry, usually spending a higher percentage of their sales on research and development than the food manufacturers.

The product improvement, product line extension and me-too product come usually from the market and the consumers; the cost reduction comes from production; but the innovation comes from studying long-term technological and social changes. There are always trends occurring and people predict the outcome of these trends using different techniques. In econometric forecasting, historical trends of populations, population demography, household sizes, agricultural production and food production are projected forward to predict the future.

In scenario painting, different scenarios are presented and future outcomes predicted; for example, possible scenarios could be:

  ‘a return to living in small towns in 30 years time’ - what effect would this have on the food industry?

  ‘China will develop technically and it will be also the largest world market and strongly influence the
  international food market’ – noodle soup instead of hamburgers as the global food take-away?

  ‘ Genetic engineering produces animals with the white meat of chicken and the size of a beef animal’
  - will this see the demise of red meat?

It can be seen that scenarios are searching for long-term social and technological changes, and there are various methods such as the Delphi technique which are used to develop and analyse these scenarios.

There is a wide range of sources for knowledge in product idea generation and it is important to recognise them and not to work in too narrow a knowledge base. Some important areas are shown in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1 Some knowledge sources for new product idea generation

      Researching consumer life changes
      Researching changes in eating patterns
      Studying what consumers need now and in the future
      Studying what consumers want now and in the future
      Studying the growing consumer concerns

      Basic research on food properties and reactions
      Research on processing and manufacturing engineering
      Research on new raw materials and ingredients
      Research on transport and storage methods
      Invention of new types of equipment
      Adaption of other technologies

      Researching social, cultural, economic changes
      Studying competing products
      Looking for a gap in the food market or a specific target market
      Studying new products on the food market
      Improving present products
      Looking for a different market or market segment
      Studying marketing changes, particularly distribution channels

Think Break 3.4
Systematic focused idea generation: food buying trends

Many of the next generation of women will have lived, as children, in homes where the adults worked and therefore meals were bought semi-prepared and ready-to-serve apart from meals for special days, such as Christmas. What effect will this have on their food buying?

Develop ideas for new food products to serve this market.


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Creating New Foods. The Product Developer's Guide. Copyright © Chartered Inst. of Environmental Health.
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