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New direction for NPD

META NPD

Wayne Martindale, Tom Hollands and Mark Swainson discuss recent advances in new product development (NPD) that use digital platforms to analyse a wide variety of data to achieve ‘meta-solutions’ that address all aspects of a product’s performance.

A changing landscape

The reality of a 21st century lifestyle is that we work and consume in a globalised food system that has raised living standards and increased longevity in regions where efficient food manufacturing and supply is possible. Improved nutrition is responsible for much of this and innovative manufacturing enables us to revolutionise how we develop new food products for improved quality, price and convenience. The resulting accessibility to food is not without its issues because eating more of what we enjoy means poor dietary choices can be made more often, resulting in increases in diseases, such as diabetes.

Getting new product development (NPD) right can help to tackle these problems by reformulation and the use of tools, such as nutrient profiling. NPD is getting smarter because we can begin to project how products are consumed at the population scale. Where NPD has been focused on the product and marketplace, we can increasingly project its impact in populations. NPD research is also crossing the manufacturing efficiency and consumer choice boundaries so that we can meet more sustainable outcomes at scale to react to consumption trends and at the same time maintain a responsibility to improve health. The result is a new meta- NPD approach, which has been enabled by digital technologies that dramatically scale existing methods. Meta-NPD provides an enhanced understanding of all available data about a product, including consumer preferences as well as quality, nutrition and sustainability.

The requirement to address the problem of poor dietary choices is confounded by critics of the food industry, who have recently called for a ‘rebooting of the broken food system’, a sentiment that does not resonate with the experience of food manufacturers. Clearly NPD practitioners must do more to connect with consumers. This article aims to demonstrate that tackling these criticisms requires rethinking how we communicate successful NPD of food products.

NPD is getting smarter because we can begin to project how products are consumed at the population scale.

Understanding consumer choice

NPD will never stand still and food manufacturers need to be agile enough to respond to change so that they can deliver consumer choice alongside price, quality and nutrition – no single attribute is more important to the whole food value chain. Many manufacturers want to be more visible in communicating the integrity of foods because it increasingly determines the purchasing choice in a competitive retail arena, where price and quality are not as differentiated as they once were. Product quality systems mean that all manufacturers supplying retailers are able to show high value and quality, but a demonstrator for food integrity is more elusive.

During the 1990s British retailers mastered quality systems and category management to respond to our year-round demand for a wider range of foods, in particular fruit and vegetables. It improved the British diet by increasing the accessibility of different fruit and vegetable varieties to consumers, supporting the five servings a day recommendation for a healthy diet. It has also been shown that people who frequently cook at home maintain a healthier diet than those who cook less frequently, as the former consume fewer calories[1]. Understanding such trends is necessary for future NPD to move from a purely product focused exercise to the metalevel, where all available data about a product is considered. This approach takes into account consumer attitudes and choices as well as efficiency and productivity. It can help to explain why consumers are not responding to solutions provided by the supply chain.

Sustainability

Product developers must begin to take a long-term view for continuous improvement and this requires a step back initially to take stock of what successful product development means for consumers and their diet at a meta-NPD level. Developers will increasingly be asked to link the constraints of food product design with high level targets, such as the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals that cross the health, social wealth and environmental lenses of sustainable food supply. The resulting options and trade-offs that emerge from considering such targets may lose sight of consumer experience. This is in part due to a lack of commercial direction coming from sustainability assessments. Of course, NPD is not all about sustainability, but this arena does provide a demonstration of how complex things can get.

Carbon footprinting provides case and point here. If sustainable diet was only concerned with providing low carbon outcomes, we would actively recommend a diet consisting of cake. This is because white sugar has one of the lowest carbon footprints per calorie. It is also produced in one of the most efficient manufacturing systems that makes use of crops, such as cane and beet, which are the plant world equivalent of Formula One racing cars because they convert sunshine into sugar exceptionally quickly[2]. An even more puzzling outcome of carbon footprint assessments is that we would not think of using anything but plastic for food packaging because, like it or not, when the life cycle of plastic is managed, it is environmentally benign[3]. This all flies in the face of consumer attitudes as consumers are increasingly isolated from the science of sustainability. NPD does not just work in terms of efficiencies of production – consumer choice has a far more important impact, which is often overlooked. This is why meta-NPD assessments are necessary to help to reconnect consumers with the food system.

If sustainable diet was only concerned with providing low carbon outcomes, we would actively recommend a diet consisting of cake.

Meat-free

The influence of projecting NPD to meta-NPD scenarios can be seen in the rise of meatfree choices, where complex sustainability trade-offs have been crystallised in the minds of consumers using terms familiar to them. This has gone well beyond the simplistic ‘plant is good, meat is bad’ choices of the past, because we have seen the emergence of reducetarian and flexitarian lifestyles that were never expected. Understanding consumer demand for meat provides a testing ground to see how consumption trends establish themselves and are influenced by sustainability targets in a real FMCG (fastmoving consumer goods) marketplace. Much of the meatfree product market depends on growing protein using efficient sugar to protein conversions to provide laboratory grown alternatives. Sugar, with its lower carbon footprint per calorie, can provide the right margins to enable the economics of meatfree​ to work. This will continue to be highly disruptive in the marketplace if the requirement to rationalise consumption of livestock products remains an important goal of global sustainability, because existing dietary inequalities are still very much defined by livestock consumption[4]. Research must continue to help consumers understand how diets can affect global impacts using rational science-based communications and the meat-free resurgence has done this exceptionally well at meta-NPD levels.

Changing NPD and manufacturing practice must focus on guiding innovations to meet consumer choices[5]. This will shape how new products are experienced by consumers – sustainability has already begun to do this in the marketplace. Consumer choice should be at the core of getting food product development right. A switch or nudge to more sustainable dietary options is not only possible, it has already happened for protein choices, where increases in the consumption of more ‘eco-friendly’ beans and lentils have occurred[6]. This would have been considered unthinkable not that long ago and it has been driven by consumer demand. Many NPD functions are trying to catch up with this shift in consumer attitudes. Meta-NPD modelling can help to make sure future activity leads rather than follows trends.

Innovation hot-spots

What becomes increasingly evident in transforming practice to a meta-NPD system is the need to consider all supply chain partners if innovation hot-spots are to be identified. An example of this has been the development of the ‘perfect’ sandwich. This demonstrates how meta-data coming from the consumer can provide long term solutions to improving quality and sustainability of products. The development of the perfect sandwich focused on consumer complaints associated with ‘soggy sandwiches’ that are often the main source of a lack of fulfilment. The solution has come from an investigation of supply chain data from seed to consumption that has identified tomato varieties that do not release water so readily when they are sliced. The tomatoes selected were previously overlooked because they are typically used for pizza and not sandwiches. However, using these tomatoes resulted in a ten-fold reduction in waste associated tomatoes during manufacture and, most importantly, the finished product is not considered ‘soggy’.

A similar approach has been used in the sandwich category for lettuce varieties that have been selected due to their ability not to brown after cutting. This all matters because it links procurement of ingredients to optimal NPD processes that provide complete product fulfilment. Projecting the success of a product is difficult but meta-NPD can help to guide the process towards a ‘success index’. This is far from straightforward, but it has been proven possible to address consumer tastes relating to tomatoes and lettuces in sandwiches.

Ingredient integrity

There is also an increasing requirement to demonstrate the integrity of food ingredients so that consumers can choose whether or not to buy them. This is driving further impetus to use meta-NPD approaches, where the impact of ingredients associated with specific viewpoints needs to be communicated with a balance of both evidence and clarity. Unfortunately, the failures of not doing this are more apparent than the successes at present.

Palm oil is one ingredient that is vitally misunderstood by consumers because the difference between non-certified and certified products has completely re-routed rational purchase decisions. It has caused high-anxiety for retailers and brand owners, who wish to avoid being tainted with non-certified ingredients and need to stand by claims that they have made.

For example, the retailer Iceland has continued to sell own-brand products containing palm oil despite pledging to stop doing so by the end of 2018[7].

There is now a robust set of data that shows we can reduce consumer food waste close to zero for each meal if preservation methods are used.

Food waste

Concerns about food integrity are compounded by the issue of food wastage, because even if complete integrity is achieved, at least 20% of food products are currently wasted during preparation and use by consumers[8]. What is the point of certifying sustainability if the food product goes into the bin? This is an area that will vex a lot of sustainable thinking but there are consumer-focused solutions that depend on meta- NPD approaches here as well. There is now a robust set of data that shows we can reduce consumer food waste close to zero for each meal if preservation methods are used.

Conclusions

While this approach has been called a ‘world first’, it essentially re-examines a century old way of thinking with respect to meta-NPD[9]. What has become evident is that product development and design has an important role in delivering sustainability. The analysis of supply chain data and meta-NPD approaches have now become a reality with supply chain analytics, such as Blockchain, providing the necessary data acquisition platforms[10].

We choose foods based on what we like, what we can access and what we can afford. But continued surveillance and interest in sustainable production will mean that increasingly we can buy produce we know has an improved supply chain. As an example, the data associated with the time a product remains in a supply chain and how it is consumed is critical to improving NPD because this goes to the heart of quality provision[11]. Even if new digital tools to allow scaling are in place, a meta-NPD approach is required to take account of all the issues affecting product lifecycle and acceptability to consumers. Understanding how food is prepared and consumed can help answer many questions as to why sustainable targets are often not reached.

Wayne Martindale1, Tom Hollands2 and Mark Swainson1

1. Food Insights and Sustainability, National Centre for Food Manufacturing University of Lincoln, Holbeach Campus, Park Road, Holbeach, PE12 7PT

2. Raynor Foods Ltd, 4 Farrow Road, Widford Industrial Estate, Chelmsford, Essex, CM1 3TH

Email mswainson@lincoln.ac.uk

References

1.  Wolfson, J.A. and Bleich, S.N. (2015), “Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention?”, Public Health Nutrition, Cambridge University Press, Vol. 18 No. 8, pp. 1397–1406.

2.  Martindale, W. and Trewavas, A. (2008), “Fuelling the 9 billion”, Nature Biotechnology, Vol. 26 No. 10, available at:https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt1008-1068.

3.  Hunt, R.G., Franklin, W.E. and Hunt, R.G. (1996), “LCA—How it came about”, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, Springer, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 4–7.

4.  Cole, J.R. and McCoskey, S. (2013), “Does global meat consumption follow an environmental Kuznets curve?”, Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy, ProQuest LLC, Vol. 9 No. 2.

5.  Apostolidis, C. and McLeay, F. (2016), “It’s not vegetarian, it’s meat-free! Meat eaters, meat reducers and vegetarians and the case of Quorn in the UK”, Social Business, Westburn Publishers Ltd, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 267–290.

6.  Vainio, A., Niva, M., Jallinoja, P. and Latvala, T. (2016), “From beef to beans: Eating motives and the replacement of animal proteins with plant proteins among Finnish consumers”, Appetite, Elsevier, Vol. 106, pp. 92–100.

7.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46969920, accessed 24th January 2019.

8. Martindale, W. (2017), Cutting through the Challenge of Improving the Consumer Experience of Foods by Enabling the Preparation of Sustainable Meals and the Reduction of Food Waste, Food Waste Reduction and Valorisation: Sustainability Assessment and Policy Analysis, available at:https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-50088-1_2.

9.  Martindale, W. (2014), “Using consumer surveys to determine food sustainability”, British Food Journal, Vol. 116 No. 7, available at:https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-09-2013-0242.

10. Martindale, Wayne, Hollands, Tom Æ, Swainson, Mark and Keogh, John G. (2018) Blockchain or bust for the food industry? Food Science and Technology, 32, (4) pp40-45.

11. Martindale, W. and Schiebel, W. (2017), “The impact of food preservation on food waste”, British Food Journal, Vol. 119 No. 12, available at:https://doi.org/10.1108/BFJ-02-2017-0114.

 

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