Dairy Crest, Alpro, Mizkan Group, Asda and Sainsbury’s were among the manufacturers and grocers that attended a conference in London to discuss the challenge of developing a food product that sticks in the UK grocery market. Below is a flavour of the event through a round-up of the choicest soundbites.

The importance of insight

“We have innovation we do because we can. That’s when you have a shiny line or machine that can make stuff. Consumers don’t care what products we can make. They care about products that meet their needs. That’s where innovation should come from. We have an understanding of what consumers want and turning it into innovation – and that is about using insight” – Adam Mehegan, shopper marketing controller at Dairy Crest, says the industry should put consumers at the heart of its NPD.

“Talking to consumer gets to one level of discussion but taking the time to observe them consuming your product in their own enviroment, a deeper immersion with consumers, that’s what gets you to a much richer level of insight” – Diane Teer, ‎president, global food packaging at MeadWestVaco, espouses patience when analysing consumer behaviour.

“When we looked at what the ingredient trends have been, when we tried not to follow our guiding principles, we failed dismally. If you try to do something where, for example, we create a product with lots of goji berries, we lose sight of the ultimate objective of that it has to taste amazing all the time. If it doesn’t, it’s not going to work” – Praveen Vijh, co-founder of Eat Natural, says the UK maker of cereal and cereal bars, has succeeded through continuously focusing on its core attributes.

“I would like to challenge that consumer insight isn’t enough. We need to think about shopper insight. A shopper is not a consumer. Even when the shopper is the same person, they are a completely different creature” – Dairy Crest’s Mehegan.

The retailers’ view

“A new product has got to fit into the range and add value. Or it’s got to be truly unique and add a new occasion. There’s not many products that are truly unique and spot a gap in the market. Breakfast biscuits was one. I can’t think of any others that I’ve seen recently” – Mark Felix, head of online grocery at Sainsbury’s, indicates how hard it can be to develop a product that finds a gap in the market.

“We don’t have expandable shelves. Be quite clear about the product it is replacing – or indeed if it is an incremental purchase opportunity. If you solve those problems, you’ll get the listings” – Debbie Robinson, head of symbol retailer Spar’s UK business, urged suppliers to think carefully about how their brands would fit an existing category.

“It has also had a commercial impact. We’ve seen a 6% increase in sales on that product range directly as a result of that logo” – Darina Hall, head of food at Asda, says consumers increasingly want to know their source of their food – and says putting a Red Tractor logo on the retailer’s chilled ready meals boosted sales.

Emerging food categories

“When you talk to consumers about what plant-based food is, they don’t really get what it is. Consumers’ mindset tends to still be that it’s dairy-free, that they only do it because they have to and that they are divorcing themselves from dairy. From a category perspective, we need to continue to educate” – Rachel Cranston, senior brand manager at Alpro, says UK consumers are increasingly understanding what plant-based foods are – but more needs to be done.

“Japanese food is the fastest-growing cuisine trend in Europe. The critical question is how do we move that into a retail product” – Stuart Storey, commerical director at Mizkan Group’s European arm, admits it will be a challenge converting the popularity of Japanese restaurant food into a solid retail brand.