Hoops and Hurdles of New Product Development (NPD)
So you have had an idea that has got you excited. It may be something that has been creeping up on you for ages, a light bulb moment or born out of determined planning. Starting a new project or product is exciting, but identifying how commercial the idea is, at the most effective point of the development cycle, is where art, science and experience meet.
To take a new product to market often feels like you are either diving through hoops or negotiating over hurdles. However, there is a proven adaptable development cycle that, when applied with the correct experience, speeds up the processes from your thought to their fork. Knowing that there are rules of the development game, how to apply them and when, or when not, to bend or break them can make all the difference between disruptive market break-through and an also-ran that does not meet the profit targets. You need to be brave enough to fail if you want to succeed and honest enough to heed truth to prevent costly mistakes:
Different people have different NPD Challenges, which is yours?
- Forming an idea into a product?
- Taking a recipe into scalable production?
- Enabling new ideas to flourish or older ones to be rejuvenated?
In the food industry our advantage is that everyone eats, so the market is wide and, along with the population, it is growing. But if you launch a product aimed at everyone, the proven result is that no one understands or buys it, so an expensive development, energy and launch come to naught. NPD is more than the recipe, it is the whole managed pathway from idea through very many stages to successful launch, customer and consumer purchase and the all-important multiple re-purchases. Below are some anonymised true examples of how to and not to negotiate the NPD Pathway:
Example 1 – Forming an idea into a product
I was recently approached by a farmer who was looking to diversify. Currently they sell their crop into the commodity market and see others buying their carefully nurtured product and making more profit by processing it into a ready-to-eat product sold to the retailers. So we had two aspects to consider: What product did he want produced? How much did he understand the food chain between his farm gate and the retail shelf?
One was to create the basis of the brief for the product recipe and process requirements. The second was to ensure that this successful business understood the opportunities, hoops and pitfalls of the journey they were aiming to take. I am pleased to say that we now have a stable product and are looking for the right partner to take it into production while our partners are building the marketing and sales strategy for this brand new brand.
All plans in product development need contingencies for positive and negative “what if?” scenarios. Some view “Planning” as the boring bit and dodge it only to find that they never know when or where they are going to arrive. Others enjoy planning so much that they never act. How do you know that you have succeeded if you do not know what success looks like? One big hurdle many forget is the final one – identify the end goal – how do you know if you have reached the finish line if you do not know where it is? It may turn out to be a staging post, but a great place to take stock and decide how long a breath you want to take before moving on while you celebrate your success.
Example 2 – Taking a recipe into scalable production
Another issue many have was demonstrated by one of the Food Science students that worked with us over this summer. He had great up to date scientific knowledge, energy and enthusiasm but as yet understandably limited experience. Working with us on two big projects he brought skills to analyse data and carry out much needed tests on the rheology of the ingredient we were working with to enable our client to commission the right machinery for scaling up production. What we taught him were the hoops of developing the recipe. Making single step changes enables you to gauge cause and effect. To record every recipe made with a code and version number allows you to go back and accurately repeat.
This does not necessarily mean making one recipe at a time, depending on test kitchen or pilot plant space you can produce multiple options in one session, and we sure did! By logically staging, recording and marking everything we had fun while working very hard, being very productive and know exactly how we got there. By sitting down with our client before we started we teased out the brief and knew when we had arrived at the goal and so when to deliver the good news. One happy student and one very happy client.
Example 3 – Timing the launch
A prospective client that I met many years ago loved the development cycle, but we never got to work with them as they ran out of funds diversifying rather than stepping back and looking at a systematic approach. They had a great idea, with a registered patent and an abundance of enthusiasm – however this was not enough to get over any hurdles.
They were busy dodging through hoops: they had funding, a social enterprise set up for production and plenty of research proving a market need. What they refused to gain was the project plan with pressure testing points, which would have shown them when they were ready to launch. They also lacked the bravery to say “we are ready” – there was always another tweak or potentially a better diversification to develop. No project cycle plan, no knowledge of how to anticipate hoops and hurdles or measure your progress, no launch plan and no income.
If you can lay out the hoops you need to get through e.g. what legal restrictions apply to your product for you to launch it in the market you are aiming for? If you can identify at least the majority of hoops and place your anticipated reactions to getting passed or stop you will have a clearer understanding of how to launch a successful product.
…enabling new ideas to flourish or older ones to be rejuvenated
If you can space your hurdles at manageable intervals, allowing the length of time between each to be sufficient for your resources, you will clear them with greater ease. If you are not expecting two at once, but that is how they arrive, or even that they turn up in a different order to the one you expect, what will you do?
It is that pre-knowledge that preserves a clear head and less reactive development and more proactive, enabling you to keep control.
Whether it is your path from A-Z, or the things that are beyond your or your team’s grasp, will help you master the challenge of taking product to market through the hoops & hurdles.
“Because anything is possible when you dream big,” as Tom Gregory, the current record holder of the youngest swimmer of the English Channel, once said.