In a world where retail shelves are already overflowing with options, food manufacturers must already know which products consumers will be giving up before buying their new offering, says David Howlett of MMR Research.
Speaking to FoodNavigator at the recent NutraFormulate conference in the UK, Howlett said that the current retail environment - in the developed world at least - is one where consumers are already eating and drinking enough.
The already saturated choice of the food and drinks in developed markets means that in order to make room for any new product, consumers have to stop buying a product - and changing that behaviour is the real tough battle.
"The plain fact is that it's very difficult to displace existing behaviours because people go around the supermarket, and to make sense of that bewildering array of products, the deselect 99% of all the options that are available to them," explained Howlett.
"For you to get over that threshold and become part of somebody's repertoire for a drink or food product requires you to know exactly what you are targeting, and what that person is going to stop eating of drinking before they chose to take you product on," said the marketing and consumer insight expert.
Understanding the competitive context
One problem for manufacturers aiming to launch a new product now is that most of the products in the supermarket already have an existing and good reputation, said Howlett - who noted that in the past it may have been that certain products had a bad reputation and were easier target because of that.
Now, all consumers know that they will get a product that is fit for purpose, he said.
Because of this, firms need to ask more during product testing and initial consumer feedback sessions:
"When you do research don't only ask people about their experiences of the product and the branding," Howlett suggested. "You need to understand the competitive context, you need to understand the strength of those people's affinity to existing products and branding, and you need to understand any weaknesses that there might be which would allow you to that new loyalty for your own product."
Real innovation can often be drowned out
Another key problem facing come manufacturers is that they face an uphill battle to convince consumers that their product is any different from the competition - especially in cases where a truly innovative product is pitted against ones that have been 'established' and refined over many years.
"One of the messages I've talked about is having 'too much choice, too little choice' because so many of the refinements and innovations that have happened in recent years are very incremental changes," said Howlett.
"It might well be that companies have a product that can make a real difference to the public, but unfortunately these are being developed in an environment where because we've had so many incremental changes - these real changes are being lost in amongst all of the other incremental changes that are happening."
The innovation experience
According to Howlett, when it comes to producing a new and really innovative product - such as a functional food - the consumer must be able to see and taste a difference to other products that it will be competing with on the shelf.
"You need to get the innovation right, you need to know that you have got something that is going to make a true change. But then it's about communicating that, and then it's about letting the product experience and the packaging experience reflect that,"
"If the taste is invisible to the consumer, and it tastes exactly as the standard product to which category it's being added, then many consumers will question why they should buy a new product at a premium when the experience is the same as before."
Even in situations where products are able to make a health claim, he suggested that "it can help if the product experience is somehow reflecting the nature of the innovation."