Ask any retailer what question they get most from customers, and the
answer will most likely be: “What’s new?” Indeed, there’s a little bit
of magpie in all of us as we are often unable to resist shiny new
|Developing innovative new products is a complex process, but you can’t afford to stand still and not plan for the future.
Ask any retailer what question they get most from customers, and the answer will most likely be: “What’s new?” Indeed, there’s a little bit of magpie in all of us as we are often unable to resist shiny new things.
William Pollard said, “The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” One doesn’t have to be a large corporation to follow a formal protocol when launching a new product. In fact, smaller operations have the advantage of speed and flexibility when bringing new concepts to market. It’s not about skipping steps or flying by the seat of your pants; it’s about following the same steps as the big companies but in a less formal way.
1. Assessing needs and trends
Where are there unmet needs that your business can fill? This is a high-level view so look at economic conditions, culinary trends and what competitors are doing. Is there a customer segment you’re missing? If your customer base contains young and old but is missing 36- to 49-year-olds, then you might want to find out where they’re eating instead and why.
What new trends are emerging in “sister segments” of the food industry that might have applications for the baked goods category? Starbucks lets you build a latte with the flavours and milks you want – why not cookies? Sweet Flour Bake Shop in Toronto does just that by allowing customers to pick a base dough then choose the mix-in that appeals to them. It could be anything from chocolate chunks to Snickers bar pieces. Ice cream parlours offer mix-ins, too, proving that really good ideas can cross many categories.
2. Technical assessment
Once you have a new product in mind, look at your production and sales capabilities and see what it would take to get in the game. Does the new product require special equipment to make it or unique delivery systems to serve it? Do you have the manpower or expertise on staff to make and sell it? Sweet Flour spent months perfecting its two-minute bake time and through extensive testing it was able to determine where it could customize and where it had to stay the course.
“We do get some customers who will request a larger cookie,” says owner Kim Grans. “However, we’ve established a certain size, weight and formula of the base dough that makes an optimal cookie at the desired cook time so on that point – we don’t deviate.”
Customizing is a huge trend moving forward so if you can figure out a way to do it, yet still maintain efficiencies, technological innovation will be a key to your success.
3. Source-of-supply assessment
Where will the ingredients come from? Are there seasonal challenges, or political, environmental or currency fluctuations that may affect supply or cost of the final product? If you’re using branded ingredients such as chocolate bars or candies – make sure you know what the rules are for using trademarked names and logos.
4. Market research
Who will this product appeal to? Will you pull customers from afar or are you fishing in the radius of a few kilometres around your operation? Look at the demographics of your market area and compare them to your target group for the product you’re introducing. Try to gauge how many potential consumers live there and what percentage of them would be interested in your new product.
Sweet Flour established that the core customer for its customized fresh baked cookie would be busy moms. The company made sure women in this demographic were well represented in terms of the research they conducted and the product testing. Sweet Flour developed a fitness cookie made from dark chocolate, almonds, oats and blueberries after noticing that many of their fitness-oriented customers were eating nature bars with similar ingredients. Watch your market and take note. Sometimes they’ll tell you with their choices and actions instead of words.
5. Product concept testing
Once you have the recipes and ingredients on hand, try different variations and hold blind sampling sessions where customers can vote for their favourite.
This is consumer involvement in the process and it’s a great way to engage your market up front. How long does it hold, stay fresh and how does it taste served cold the next day? Try to use the product yourself as the consumer would to determine where there are opportunities for improvement.
“We tested the cookies extensively for months,” Gans says. “We kept lots of notes from the consumer testing to ensure we had a solid sense as to the consumer’s preferences. Even now I have a suggestion box in the store so customers can share their wishes for new mix-ins.”
6. Product definition
What will you name the product? What is its final direct cost? How will you package and advertise it, and what price can you charge for it to strike that balance between volume and profitability? Will this be a signature product around for the long haul or a limited time offer? Consumers count the days until Starbucks launches its pumpkin latte and the coffee retailer shrewdly keeps it as a limited time offer to enhance the mystique.
7. Business and financial analysis
Now that you know the product cost, price and estimated sales volume, determine what the gross and net profit will be on the item. Is it still a good idea to introduce it? Even if the product isn’t as profitable as others on your menu, it might still help you draw in new consumers who will purchase other key items as well. Establish the cost for the various raw materials and make sure that you can sell the finished product at a reasonable price point.
Innovation isn’t a “nice to have”; it’s a “must have.” Food Processing Magazine reports in its May 2009 issue that 48 per cent of companies this year list new product introductions as their most important focus. They know the secret to success: When times are good, good companies plan for the future. When times are bad, great companies still plan for the future.
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands and can be reached at briseboismichelle@
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