Reflections on NPD food & drink trends and innovations

21 October, 2016

What’s hot in food & beverage? How do we get ahead of the innovation curve? What are the true game-changing ideas and strategies? These questions and others were up for debate at NPD Food & Drink organised by Global Insight Conferences and taking place at the America Square conference centre in London on 18 October. The Science Group’s Marketing Director, Melissa Shone, shares her reflections.

The day started with Neville Moon, consultant, currently at Aryzta Bakeries Europe outlining something of a crisis in new product development in food & drink. The volume of new products coming to market is down substantially and much of this results from the reduced choice offered by supermarkets, a trend being set by the discounters – fewer lines, less choice.

“Too much houmous”

He mused that perhaps historically innovation had run amok and too many products had in fact been brought to market. Taking the example of houmous/hummus – a middle-eastern dip made from chickpeas and lemon, dating back to the thirteenth century – he observed that at his last count in a popular supermarket there were over 50 varieties (red pepper, lemon and coriander, sun-dried tomato…). Is this just too much houmous? Perhaps the reduced opportunities for new products is actually a good thing and will curb innovation for innovation’s sake.

So what is driving innovation?

The health debate

One trend that was picked up throughout the day was health. But what is healthy and when consumers say they want healthy, do they really mean it?

In the morning, panellists touched on the apparent inconsistency in consumers’ buying patterns. One noted that coffee chains observed a correlation between people buying a skinny latte and a cake, following the “I’ve had my diet so now I deserve a treat” maxim. There was also debate about what constitutes healthy; some products can carry a health halo but may not actually be as healthy as their hype. For example – cereal for years was seen a heathy option for breakfast and this masks the fact that it was frequently full of sugar.

Start-ups Wheyhey and Fuel10k both squarely addressed the “fake healthy” products with passionate agendas to reduce sugar and “bad stuff” in everyday food categories – ice-cream and breakfast foods respectively. Both presentations were dynamic and inspiring and showed how new products can enter established categories with big brand domination and make waves. Both products focus on protein and introduce “good proteins” into these everyday foods. They also challenge the notion that there is a trade-off between healthy and taste – you can have healthy products that taste great.

Yet tasting great is only one part of the “food experience”, we also desire products that look great too.

The food experience

The trend for creating these experiences was a theme of the day. At one level this was about creating food that is visually appealing to cater to the Instagram generation who like to photograph their food and share the photos with their friends. This has led to highly coloured food – one panellist used the term “eating the rainbow” – and food experiences.

FOMO: Fear of missing out

Alice Ponti from SAB Miller picked this up at the end of the day talking about how experiences have been created in the beverage category. She cited the example of French Champagne producer G.H. Mumm which has developed a digitally connected Champagne bottle triggering an interactive sound and visual experience when it is opened. The bottle is fitted with an RFID chip that connects it to a bar or club. A sensor embedded in the cork then sends a signal to the venue’s audio and visual system when it is released, activating a multisensory light and audio experience that can be personalised to each venue. This is the type of experience which users can share with friends through social media, thereby creating that rather envious feeling of FOMO – or fear of missing out.

And shopping for food & drink raises a whole range of different considerations. Various presenters noted difficulties for shoppers in finding foods due to category stretch and merge. So how do you get your product in front of the shopper?

Shopping on autopilot

Emma Tappin from Premier Foods compellingly described shopper behaviour, introducing the idea of the “grab and go” shopper and the more considered buyer. Average hypermarkets contain around 40,000 products, but on average an individual buys around 350 products a year and has a repertoire of six meals. How do we make our choices? We mainly use “system 1 thinking” – using memory and habit to filter out the different or the unexpected to find our familiar brands and products. Only sometimes do we step outside this making considered buying decisions and evaluating new products. The digital age is impacting this with concepts such as ROSI (research online, shop instore) becoming more common as people research recipe and menu options and shop accordingly.

Despite all the positive presentations, there was still a reflective mood in the group that maybe innovation isn’t as easy to achieve – especially within big brands – as it used to be.

A dearth of creative thinking

There was general consensus that big companies do little creative thinking. One of the morning panellists noted that he gets more inspiration from 20 minutes on YouTube than from 20 hours with his colleagues. Real inspiration comes from chefs and food writers.

David Warren from Dairy Crest picked up this theme in a very entertaining presentation outlining the challenges of big brands in big categories. He demonstrated that they are all facing decline and struggling to rethink their roles in a world of reduced product lines in the big supermarkets.

Colin Campbell at Wessanen spoke about the psychology behind innovation. He highlighted that entrepreneurial thinking was needed to drive truly ambitious products to market. The presentations from the new entrants Fuel10K and Wheyhey only underlined this trend, further demonstrating that breakthrough products seem to be coming increasingly from small new start-ups. Fuel10K looked at a category – breakfast cereal – and saw that it was aimed at children and mothers, but where were the cereal products for men? They have sought successfully to answer this.


The day really did illustrate the tension in the market between the established players who are struggling in NPD. The changing retail landscape has impacted those working in NPD and is challenging them to change their operation. Competition is coming from smaller players and start-ups whose entrepreneurial spirit drives them past obstacles and set-backs. And these smaller competitors have passion to create products which challenge received wisdom.


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