Ex-Unilever NPD veteran shares 22 years of learnings

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Taste, Product development

Ex-Unilever NPD veteran shares 22 years of learnings
Taste and retaste. Taste in the actual matrix. Taste ‘neat’. Taste three times.

So says Wayne Morley (pictured), ex-technical food developer at Unilever where he worked for 22 years on new flavours and formats on brands such as Hellman’s mayonnaise, before taking a post two years ago as Head of Food Innovation at Leatherhead Food Research.

Morley has put together 10 golden rules for product developers to bare in mind when attempting the highly difficult and rarely successful task of taking a food product all the way from idea-to-shelf. His rules emphasise taste along with the economics of product development and retail realities and the importance of being an ambassador for a product idea in-house.

He told this publication that in his experience, only “about five per cent”​ of product ideas ever make it to shelf.

“There are a lot of casualties along the way,” ​he said, “and that can be for a host of reasons from its taste to the fact that the person behind the idea doesn’t sell it strongly or effectively enough.”

In reference to his time at Unilever Morley emphasised the importance of being an effective internal communicator. “I used to speak passionately about the brands I was working with. At a company like Unilever there are hundreds of brands so it is important to be enthusiastic.”

Margin making

He always warned companies against taking cost short-cuts post launch.

“Products need to make an acceptable margin and it can be the case that companies launch products where the margin might not quite be there and then they will reduce costs later with different ingredients that can affect the product and this can be bad news for the product. Any changes need to be thoroughly tested. So my advice is that companies need to proceed very carefully.”

Morley’s 10 golden rules

Rule 1 – Always taste your own products
“Tasting sessions are an integral part of product development and you should taste and retaste continuously.”

Rule 2 – Taste the product with the appropriate host food

For example a well-known chicken casserole sauce is manufactured using acid pasteurisation technology and is therefore acidic when tasted neat and cold. On cooking, however, the acids are buffered by the proteins in the chicken resulting in a much more neutral tasting sauce. So you need to continue the development of the sauces based on the results of tasting chicken casseroles. Equally important is to select the correct host food.”

Rule 3 – Taste the product neat
“Even taking the advice in rule 2 into account, it is also important to taste the product neat. A good example of this is in the reduction by ‘stealth’ of ingredients such as salt and sugar. A single small reduction may not be noticeable by consumers but may not be appropriate if carried out several times to result in a product quality which is very different to the original.”

Rule 4 – Taste the product 3 times
“It is often the case that a ‘tweak’ to the formulation is requested following a product tasting. However, if you are convinced that the product meets the brief then why not present the same product again at the next tasting? And only make the requested change if the product is rejected 3 times.”

Rule 5 – Let the products do the talking
“After spending months developing and perfecting your new product comes the most difficult task of all - convincing your senior management colleagues to proceed to launch. And, even after sorting out the supply chain and hitting the right margin, there’s always the chance that someone will taste the product and not like it. So have faith in your product and don’t be afraid to use it to make your point.”

Rule 6 – Get close to marketing​

“Regular contact and tasting sessions are vital, and don’t be afraid to comment on the marketing messages and on-pack information that is being developed.”

Rule 7 – Use scientific data selectively
“As technical people we love data, and the more the better. However, it doesn’t cut much ice with non-technical people who may only believe what they can see and taste for themselves.”

Rule 8 – Consider the factory and supply chain
“It is important however to at least think about the likely factory unit operations that may eventually apply and design some robustness into your products at an early stage. If you’re worried that transportation may cause some product instability, then you can carry out a simple shake test in the laboratory to simulate this.”

Rule 9 – Be an ambassador for your product
“My advice is to check your local supermarkets soon after launch. If your product is missing then ask for it – of course you will then have to buy a pack but this is no problem as it tastes so good!”

Rule 10 – Be careful with ingredients
“The supermarket versions may be of variable specification and not available in suitable quantities for large-scale production, so use them with caution.

Morley’s full list can be found here.

Related topics: Market Trends

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2 comments

Financial point

Posted by Nuray Akıncıoğlu Barut,

I love the points as a freshman food developer, it would be nice to read his other documentations and consult him. Additionally, financial point of view before and after launch is needed to be analyzed.

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Sensation transference - and the role of design

Posted by Brian Wagner,

All great points - i'd add the role of packaging and design, and the perception and expectation subconsciously translated to the "product" flavor and performance. This is often ignored in blind taste tests, and as packaging is considered late in the development process. Include packaging starting at insight/preconcept testing.

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