By Gill McShane
Everyone everywhere is looking for something different. But how do you develop an innovative concept that’s popular with both retailers and their shoppers, and what do you do when you have no brand and price and/or quality seem to be all that matters? PBUK gets an expert’s viewpoint from Rui Santos, chief research and development officer at Dutch Creative Brands Group (DCB).
Globally recognised for at least two brands – Vacu Vin and Tomorrow’s Kitchen – DCB has worked with a number of well-known companies in the fresh produce business, including Greenco, Hillfresh and retailer Albert Heijn.
Rather than lowering produce prices or offering volume promotions, DCB and its partners have driven sales by adding value for retailers and consumers through creating innovative kitchen preparation tools, on-the-go eating utensils, and convenient packaging or storage solutions.
“By developing products that add value, we’re not looking at price anymore; we’re looking at the value of your brand [or company], your product and your relationship with the retailer,” Santos explains.
These gadgets are gifted or sold on promotion with the fruit or vegetable for which they have been designed, enabling produce that is often non-branded to benefit from cross-promotion.
The investment is worthwhile. From his experience, Santos claims sales can rise by 400 percent after the first and even second time the promotion is run, followed by lasting sales growth of 10 percent thereafter.
To get started on your own new product development (NPD) journey, Santos shares his essential components for success:
Use your knowledge
The foundation for any good NPD is to use your existing knowledge to develop concepts that fit your target market. It should also fit your organisation and focus.
“Growers and suppliers know their products best,” Santos says. “They know how to store them, how to prepare them, what you can do with them, what pairs well with them and what type of consumer likes them.
“By looking closely at what you know already, it shouldn’t be very difficult to innovate by yourself or in cooperation with a company like ours to find opportunities. On the other hand, you may find there’s no opportunity, in which case, don’t bother throwing money at it.”
For example, Santos says if you know your product stores better outside the fridge but many consumers do the opposite, you could explore ways to convince a change in behaviour.
“You could offer a special item that makes it easier to store the product outside the fridge,” he suggests. “Or make it visual – show what happens in terms of longevity, colour and flavour if you store it inside versus outside.”
Using knowledge as your starting point, the next step is to ensure your innovation is meaningful, rather than just a gimmick. You’ll also need creativity for the design.
“If you offer just a toy with some snacking tomatoes for example, the effect will be short lasting,” Santos says. “It might drive initial sales but they will ebb away.
“Also, I’ve seen examples of introducing a type of fruit that tastes extremely different to what people expect. While the seasonality of colour can be interesting, I don’t see any added value in forcing flavour. It just comes across to consumers as why?”
Alternatively, Santos advises developing a tool that’s indispensable because it makes it easier for consumers to eat or prepare your product over and over again.
“It’s a meaningful item that’s linked to your brand or company which is always in people’s home or bags that they can keep on using,” he explains.
“This helps to slowly build awareness of your brand. It’s not instant success but it builds a successful brand that lasts.”
For example, DCB has designed a spoon for bell or pointed peppers to make it easy to cut off the stem and remove the seeds and membrane. This simple tool shows consumers how easy it is to stuff peppers and inspires them to try.
Another DCB gadget that’s not yet on the market is a tool for eating passion fruit on the go without a knife or spoon. This, according to Santos, will inject new life into convenience fruit options, beyond bananas or apples.
On top of that, Santos believes your concept should be honest, easy to understand and informative because consumers love to learn.
“A lot of the time, people buy what they know because they’re afraid of what they don’t know,” he points out. “You should always think about how to make consumers more knowledgeable about how to prepare, store or take along your product because if they can’t envisage how to use it, they’re not going to buy it.”
Recently, DCB and Hillfresh developed a practical and educational tool that slices a kaki fruit into six wedges and pushes out the crown. In doing so, it teaches the consumer how to eat the fruit because it communicates that the crown is the only part that should be discarded.
Packaging is very important too, and Santos suggests looking at how it can add value to produce from another perspective – not just for protection and presentation.
“If you can give your packaging an extra function, to dispense fruit like berries, or a design that makes your product easier to store that will be a game-changer too,” he says.
For instance, Hillfresh has created a convenient tray to hold five kiwifruit; one for each day of the working or school week. “You don’t have to think about what to buy, you just pick it up,” Santos notes.
Hillfresh is also looking into developing small snack-sized packaging that includes playing cards for children. “It’s about making fruit more fun,” suggests Santos, explaining that the packaging itself can be playful, like using a Frisbee to pack kiwifruit, or reusable so kids can make things out of it.
Think it through
Although most NPD is universal in reach, you should still know your individual market and understand your end consumers’ lifestyle and culture because your concept might not fit every market.
“You have to talk to the end users, look at the way people deal with taking fruit and veg to work or school, or how they prepare it at home – you have to know something about the consumer to convince them that the product will be useful,” Santos explains.
Overall, he says it’s the responsibility of the supplier (and their partner) to ensure all scenarios are thought out because consumers can be very critical, especially when it comes to the environment.
Equally, Santos urges the produce industry not to be afraid of cooperating with others, even competitors, because everyone will benefit from increased consumption, regardless of the brand.
“Pick the right partner; pick the one that’s most interested in working with you, trying new things and accepting risk,” he advises.
“It’s not just about growers working with other growers. You can cooperate with packaging suppliers, media agencies or suppliers of kitchen tools and gadgets like ourselves.”
Last but not least, you need to have courage.
“If you don’t try, you’ll never have success,” Santos warns. “We’ve had a lot of cooperation and some failures but, even so, the relationship with the retailer is strengthened because you’re thinking along with them, taking risks and trying to boost sales.”
Tell your story
Once you have your product differentiation, you’ll need to convince retailers of its added value to ensure they appreciate the competitive advantage beyond price or quality. To do so, Santos recommends promoting yourself by telling the story of the company behind the product or brand.
“You have to share your story; then the discussion goes from price and quality to value,” he explains. “What’s your heritage, how has your product evolved, how do you pack, how do you treat your employees?
“It’s about the complete package because the only thing that will set you apart from the competition is thinking beyond product quality and price. You can go the extra mile, show you can think along with the retailer, show you can offer more value than the basic product.”