Senior food industry executives from companies including Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline and Asda have headed to the picturesque UK town of Windsor for this year’s Food and Drink Innovation Dialogue to discuss a variety of factors affecting innovation in our sector. Delegates have analysed the impact that issues including the economic downturn, ethical consumerism, the rivalry between brands and private label and the demand for clean-label products have had on NPD. Here are some of the more notable soundbites.

Innovation and:Consumer trends

“Companies aren’t necessarily holding back from launching products, perhaps just being a little more cautious. Perhaps launching more line extensions, launching more reformulated products and much more focused on core brands, rather than completely new brands” – David Jago, director of innovation and insight, Mintel.

“From 2007 versus the first quarter of 2011, the categories that have seen the biggest growth are either focused on key meal occasions – side dishes, sauces and seasonings – or they are very much indulgence-driven. Also products that are more related to home cooking. As the economnic downturn deepened, it coincided with a revival of interest in home cooking” – Jago.

“Ethical and environmental claims have grown significantly since 2007, grew to a peak in 2010 and has dipped away a little bit in 2011. It’s still very high on the consumer’s agenda but perhaps not quite as high as it was previously” – Jago.

“Consumers avoid fat and sugar and sodium but they also avoid what you might classify as artificial additives …. in the context of health and wellness. The health and wellness picture for the industry has clearly shifted away from just thinking about diet to something complex, holistic and naturally-focused” – Jago.

“Brands are really being reassessed in marketplace. An increasing number of consumers like changing brands. The whole issue of brand loyalty has been eroded quite a bit by the economic downturn” – Jago.

“Fewer than a quarter of French consumers think brands are better than own label” – Jago.

Local food

“Provenance and local is a key consumer driver that has come to market particularly in the last couple of years in all European countries” – Jago

“Private label is playing to the same consumer trend and is stealing the march on brands in this particular area” – Jago.

“Private label has potential to cause long-term damage to brands by focus on ‘local'” – Jago.

“‘Local’ is definitely a hot topic at the moment. Local for us is immensely important” – CJ Antal-Smith, category director for emerging markets, Asda.

Company processes

“Connectivity between people matters in generating innovation – externally and internally” – Paul Isherwood, director for innovation, external networks and partnerships, GlaxoSmithKline Nutritional Healthcare Future Group.

“There is only one real driver of doing new ways of business and that is working far more effectively with outside communities and partners” – Roger Leech, open innovation portfolio and scouting director, Unilever.

“The reason why you do open innovation is to be bigger, better and faster into the market” – Leech.

“Unless we are light on our feet and use this approach, let’s not be surprised if in a few years time we start to fall behind our competitors” – Leech.

The trend towards clean label

“The biggest processed food categories across Europe are moving in this direction, trying to reduce the size of the ingredients list, trying to make more claims in this area” – Charlotte Commarmond, marketing director EMEA, National Starch Food Innovation.

“In the UK, the trend has really taken root. Thirty per cent of new product launches could be classifed as clean label – either organic, no additives or natural. It’s really starting to spread on the continental market” – Commarmond.