Over the past 20 years, I have been lucky enough to work at the forefront of innovation in health and wellness. Having worked on the brand and investor side, I’ve experienced some great product launches and a couple of failures, but most were somewhere in the middle.
When categories are overly crowded, what makes some products stand out? Why do some products have to push harder whilst others seem to fly off the shelf? Looking back at all these launches I put together a list of the common mistakes I have seen;
- The ‘build it and they will come mentality’
- The belief that everyone is the target
- Not understanding the competitive landscape
- Not focusing on the moment or the occasion for the product
- Being unable to move beyond the foothold consumer to a wider audience
- Being primarily driven by data to make decisions
What’s common here is a lack of focus on the opportunity. Focus gives new products a fighting chance, it gives us the possibility to own a new space and create a fiercely loyal following. Where should we focus our efforts or in other words where do we play? This comes down to discovery.
How to seek out growth
It doesn’t start with product. It starts with the market.
Discovery is one of the most challenging components but can have the biggest impact on innovation. It’s not called the “fuzzy front end” for nothing.
This discovery phase has often referred to as where you can find space for your innovation. I look at it the other way around – it’s where you find new demand and then target that with innovation.
Most product innovators will do some form of discovery. Traditional methods of trying to understand consumers and their decisions in a category are often not sufficient and lead to generic products. This is because consumers start their decision-making based on what needs they want to satisfy, not the category.
To get started do an analysis of all the players in the market, look at tangential categories and trends, speak to leading-edge experts and gather viewpoints, and go in-home and shop-along with influential consumers to understand their needs and decision points. Your aim is to create a robust framework of possibilities for your brand to evaluate and leverage. It requires empathy and strategy to get to this point but if done well it’s the intersection of these different lenses that helps us uncover new sources of opportunity and demand.
Uncovering a nugget of opportunity gives brands a foothold in the market. Take Mason Dixie for example. I had the pleasure to hear their founder, Ayeshah Abuelhiga, speak recently at Naturally Network Women in CPG conference. Mason Dixies didn’t have a category when they started – they had to pave their way and break the frozen category apart and grow it. The founding insight came from a personal need for genuine comfort food, which was validated by the family’s close connection with their customers via their small carry-out restaurant and convenience store.
When you understand where the white space is you can strategically set the stage for true and deep differentiation from competitors in your market area and even create a new category of products.
Example – Active Lifestyle Nutrition
By deep-diving into a category, we can learn from the past, understand the present, and decode the future when it comes to successful innovation thinking. Over the past few years, I have worked closely with sports and active lifestyle trends and consumers. It’s a category that has changed considerably since its beginnings in 1972 with the Aitkin New Diet Revolution that introduced the high protein diet. Initially, the category focused on athletes and bodybuilders and was available in very small health food stores. Skip to today, protein is mainstream and there are many levers brands have pulled to create their ownable niche in now a very crowded category. Here are some of the growth drivers that have impacted this category, giving new brands a foothold and existing brands an expansion opportunity.
- Diet trends – the high protein trend takes a different approach to weight management moving away from restriction towards more is better – ‘if I eat more protein, I will lose weight’. This has contributed to the longevity of the trend. Now we are seeing this go deeper and wider with brands answering the consumer’s concerns for sustainability and different health considerations. For example, Chobani launched the high protein Greek yogurt category serving a wider audience.
- Demographic targeting – the category started with a niche as it was first towards bodybuilders then as the trend evolved products are targeting everyday health seekers becoming a trend for everyone. This wider group offers many nuggets of new demand by niching down on an audience e.g. youth athletes
- Distribution gains – another growth driver was mainstream retail/big box stores picking up the products moving them beyond health food stores, distribution agreements (eg Pepsi and Muscle Milk), and placement in-store (from supplements to grocery aisle). As brands unlocked additional capacity they were able to promote and grow into these new channels.
- Differentiated go to market – brands have entered the market in different ways to win share and loyalty. For example, Quest was one of the first to leverage social media to promote its brand using influencers and Instagram.
- Improved formulations – advancements in food science have led to gains in improved product taste, texture, and shelf life. Different types of proteins are being used and it’s getting to the point where there is a packaging call out for protein on a pack even if a product is low in protein. This presents another opportunity.
- Government support – the government invest in promoting the benefits of dairy early in the protein trend with the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign, although not about protein, drove awareness of the goodness of milk helping the trend and category. It’s an example of how strategic partnerships can accelerate growth
Bringing this together you can look at niching down and finding the new opportunity for your brands in the diagram below. I’ll do more posts later about each section in more detail and the importance of the intersections.
Let the market lead the way
Most startups start with a very niche market and expand the definition of their market outwards into larger and larger markets. However, with the landscape constantly changing we can’t be attached to a perceived end game as this is going to change along the way as we learn and grow. Instead, let the market lead the way, after all, discovery is an ongoing process of keeping close to the consumer.
At the Naturally Network Women in CPG event I asked a question to the founder panelists ‘as you have moved beyond your foothold consumer to a broader audience what role has product innovation played?’ Hannah from Must Love shared her story. The original Must Love product was banana-based ice cream. Despite having a great start, the team discovered there is a cap on this flavor’s appeal. Keeping intact their core brand values they launched an oat milk ice cream which enabled them to instantly broaden their appeal whist keeping the same standards in place – real fruit, real ingredients, and indulgence. With this new product they also rebranded, and this became a huge pivot point in their growth journey.
Implement product innovations that are meaningful and grow business
If you are daunted by all the tasks ahead of you when it comes to innovation our LaunchJuice Bootcamp helps you sort through the chaos and work out your next product move. We help food and beverage brands create a pipeline of viable product ideas ready to develop and bring to market successfully and cost-effectively. If you are looking for more hands-on support, we also work with brands on specific innovation challenges and do the heavy lifting for you so you can focus on other areas of your business. Feel free to get in touch and let us know what you thought about our thinking on targeted demand. I’ll be posting a few practical guides shortly.