Blog: Dean BestBirds Eye, Waitrose, Cadbury look to NPD

Dean Best | 9 March 2009

Innovative companies thrive, while weaker companies struggle and fail.

So said researchers IRI in a recent report setting out ways for food manufacturers and retailers to prosper in what remains a very gloomy economic climate.

Of course, in recent months, as downturn turned to recession, the instinct has been for companies to play it safe and steer clear of the risky business of innovation and NPD. Previous recessions, however, have seen some take the plunge and continue to innovate - and this time is no different.

Last week, Birds Eye Iglo, Waitrose and Cadbury became the latest three companies to unveil their innovation plans. Birds Eye used former warship HMS Belfast to launch its latest fish products and the frozen food giant will no doubt be hoping it can navigate a steady course through the UK's choppy economic waters. The two new lines under Birds Eye's Simply brand represent something of a step-change for frozen fish in the UK - the company claimed the "premium" ranges would give something different to the category- but it remains to be seen whether the country's cash-strapped consumers will take the bait.

Elsewhere, upmarket retailer Waitrose confirmed plans to launch a range of cut-price, own-label products in a bid to lure consumers crunched by the recession. According to the most recent TNS figures, Waitrose has seen its share of the UK grocery market fall in the last 12 months. As the downturn has hit consumers, UK premium retailers have come under pressure and the launch of the "essential Waitrose" line is the retailer's latest move to demonstrate that it too can offer shoppers value.

One category that has demonstrated resilience to the downturn has been confectionery and Cadbury, hot on the heels of the publication of a set of robust figures for 2008, last week signalled its confidence in the strength of chocolate with plans to switch flagship brand Dairy Milk to Fairtrade certification by the summer. At first glance, such a move might raise eyebrows but there have been signs that demand for Fairtrade in the UK remains buoyant and Cadbury has stolen a march on its rivals.

Those already bringing Fairtrade chocolate to the UK, including Divine Chocolate, could be forgiven for feeling slightly nervous about the emergence of Dairy Milk into the category. However, Sophi Tranchell, MD of Divine, told us last week that such a major commitment by such a significant player can only be good news for the Fairtrade movement. In this month's just-food interview, Tranchell said that Cadbury's move would boost the whole category and, in the words of JFK, that "a rising tide raises all ships".

Next week, the good ship just-food heads to London's Docklands for the biennial IFE trade show (you can visit just-food and see what our site can offer at stand S2933). This year, the central theme of the show is innovation and there are certain to be scores of companies showcasing their latest attempts to thrive during the downturn.

This week, in the run-up to the show, just-food will be running a daily diary of the events set to take place at IFE - and the products being lined up for launch. If you'd like your company or product to be included, please email the just-food editorial desk at foodeditor@aroq.com. We're keen to hear how you plan to thrive during the economic crisis.


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