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Who Knows Best The Consumer or a Scientist?

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<p>Product development has to be a holistic process that considers the consumer, the market conditions and the product concept.</p>

Where do you begin the innovation journey? Do you start by identifying what consumers want? Or does the product concept come first? Clients regularly come to us with new ideas, many of which become real success stories. Unfortunately, not all ideas are successful, and we can often pin their failure on the fact that the company did not understand their target market well enough. Great brands know their consumer.

Consumer insight is an invaluable part of concept and product development. For example, the potential for healthier chocolates is a current focus for innovation. In one of our studies, we explored consumers’ views on the concept of indulgence in the context of fat-reduced chocolates. The conclusion from the people we spoke to was clear: indulgence is not epitomised by the product alone, or as one respondent said, “It’s not just the food, although that plays a big part; it’s more the whole experience of having the time to eat it, where you eat it and how you feel when you eat it." This highlights the importance of not only understanding product acceptability, but also taking a wider view of the influences on the consumer beyond the product.

This is not to say that the only way to innovate is to create a product based on consumer need. A company may instead begin their innovation process by looking at how they can disrupt a category or by responding to a macro-economic trend, such as concerns about a lack of animal protein in the future. While they may not start with the consumer, they still, however, need ultimately to understand the man on the street and test the concept with their target market.

Some ideas may be so “out there," it is fair to say that consumers will take some convincing. Are we ready for insect kebabs yet? This type of disruptive development—which might actually require consumers to change their behavior—works particularly well for products that can communicate a clear reason for existing and are particularly distinctive from any competitors in the marketplace.

New technology is an important innovation driver—we’ve seen the ingenuity of 3-D printing in confectionery and this is now being applied to savoury products, such as pasta. From our project experience, innovation can stem from technology transfer between non-food and food sectors, or from translating the learnings from one food category to another.

Product development has to be a holistic process that considers the consumer, the market conditions and the product concept. This can only come from a close collaboration between sensory and consumer scientists who understand their consumers, and product developers who have a high degree of skill and knowledge in ingredient and product behaviour in order to ensure microbiological safety and product stability.

This leaves me only to say: bring on the science, but make sure you’re also bringing the consumer with you!

Cindy Beeren of Leatherhead Food Research will deliver a talk on the role of sensory science and consumer insight in innovation on the Vitafoods Europe Centre Stage on Wednesday 11 May 2016, from 2.30pm.

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