Future Brands initiative shows NPD is viable with compelling consumer and category rationales, says Bridgethorne Joint Managing Director, Andrew Cole.

At a time when its seems like the grocery trade is dominated by reports of ranges being cut back and products delisted, Sainsbury’s Future Brands initiative, which aims to find and support new products through an incubation programme, has shown it remains possible for suppliers to successfully pitch new products if the product, its rationale and the way it is presented all meet certain key criteria.

Products that either open a new product area within a category or fill an existing gap are most likely to succeed, but only if backed by credible commercial and insight-based evidence.

Under its Taste of the Future scheme, Sainsbury’s has, for example, included crisps made from salmon skin and a vegan “meal in a bottle” as part of an effort to measure shopper interest in so-called “disrupter” food and drink brands. Only those that sell well will be retained for longer-term, permanent listings. 

However, many suppliers develop new products because they have the capability to do so but without having a compelling consumer or category rationale. But too many suppliers produce and try to sell products without evidence of market need or demand. You simply have distinctly less chance of success if you cannot prove that new product development is credible, relevant and demonstrates differentiated innovation. And insight is at the core of all this.

At the very least suppliers must be able to provide an understanding of how consumers are using both the product and shopping the category. This should feed into a compelling argument for where both a category and a consumer gap exists that would be filled by any new product. The harsh reality, though, is that if that gap doesn’t exist or cannot be found – or if the supplier has no insight to support why it is developing this new product – it may need to push back and challenge itself as to why it is doing it at all.

Some businesses may be in the enviable position where all data or insights already sit within their organisation. The trick is to be able to transform this into something truly compelling; persuading retailers of the role, value and importance of the new product to their shoppers and how it will add value to their business and category.

Too often the reality is that products are launched in the absence of any meaningful insight.  The focal point for doing so has to be consumer, shopper AND category insight.

The maxim for any business when developing new products is to ask themselves the following question: Is my proposition credible, differentiated and relevant?’ If the answer to this question is ‘no’ or even, simply, ‘I think so’, then it may be time to stop and reappraise why you are launching the product at all.