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The big idea

What’s the secret to new-product success in food?

Innovation is said to be the lifeblood of successful organizations. But the next time you mention innovation, I suggest you put the word “relevant” in front of it. Why? Just consider the number of so-called innovative products on grocery shelves that get delisted each year. They all seemed a great idea when conceived at the boardroom table. But then poof! They failed to catch on at the kitchen table.

It’s easy to pin product failure on too little consumer research. But that’s not always the cause. Despite all the research done on what people want, most consumers haven’t the faintest clue what they need until it’s put in front of them. Take the iPad. Who knew three years ago that anyone would ever need an iPad. The fact that 40 million iPads have been sold as of this September proves otherwise.

The late Steve Jobs understood better than anyone how an iPad might make the lives of consumers more enjoyable, useful and convenient. Manufacturers of consumer packaged goods need to think the same way, by understanding consumer behaviour as much as consumer desires.

New products can’t be conceived in a vacuum. They must address how people actually eat. At different points in the day–breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks–consumers face a different set of demands. When the grocery industry looks for growth opportunities, it has to understand what it is consumers actually need. To demonstrate, let me walk you through three interesting consumer behaviours that we discovered in NPD Group’s newly released Eating Patterns in Canada report:

1. Canadians are more likely to skip lunch than breakfast. And when they skip lunch, they are more likely to do it on weekends.
2. Canadians are increasingly eating leftovers for lunch.
3. More Canadians claim that they are cooking dinners from scratch. But the hard data shows they are not.

Let’s start with finding No. 1. Given that skipped meals equate to missed opportunities for grocers, how can companies encourage people to skip fewer lunches? One of the big challenges at lunch on the weekend is breakfast. Not surprisingly, information from the foodservice channel confirms what most of us intuitively know: Canadians eat breakfast later on weekends. Peak time for breakfast from restaurants during the workweek is 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. On the weekend it’s 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. If you are a grocer offering a home meal replacement business at lunch, you should consider offering lighter lunch options to bridge the gap between breakfast and dinner on weekends.

The second finding identifies that Canadians are eating more leftovers at lunch. In 2005, 22 per cent of lunches included a leftover. This year, it’s 28 per cent. Is this a challenge, or an opportunity? It depends on how you approach it. Consider if there is messaging for your product that speaks to this increasing need for meal efficiency. For instance, “Can tonight’s dinner be tomorrow’s lunch as well?”

The third finding is that Canadians say they are preparing more of their dinners from scratch. But when we look at the share of dinners that consumers classify as being homemade, there has been no growth in meals made from scratch. Additionally, the average number of components or ingredients used to prepare dishes at dinner hasn’t increased either. So we have a clear conflict in what consumers say they are doing and what they are actually doing.

But don’t let this apparent confl ict confuse you. Instead, deliver what the consumer says she wants, and what she actually needs, at the same time. For instance, promote homemade dinner solutions, but when doing so, ensure those solutions are simple to prepare. And when offering recipe ideas, keep the number of recipe components to around three. This helps shoppers balance the satisfaction of creating homemade dinners with hectic lifestyles.

Providing relevant innovation that succeeds with the consumer goes beyond just understanding what people say they want. When creating meal solutions, and when crafting messaging for consumers, have a holistic perspective on how people behave so that innovation is developed based on facts around how people eat. Knowing this allows food manufacturers and grocers to develop solutions to problems that consumers may not even know they had.

If you doubt this even for a second, just look to the iPad.

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