Why is designing food products so difficult?

August 16, 2017
designing food products

By: Foodlosofia

By Mirko Stanic*

Why not all innovation works? An explanation of why all goes wrong and what can be done better

Maybe the biggest problem is the way how new products are developed. There are many innovation methods such as Design Thinking or the Stage Gate Model that are used by some companies such as Pepsi. In Design Thinking, the first step starts with empathy to understand your customer. But understanding what your customers want seems like more something from theory. In reality, ethnographers struggle to collect information that makes sense for designing a new product. In most cases, the Brand Manager has little time to think what should be next and chooses the fastest way for a new product by extending an existing range with another fruit flavor. This approach leads straight into the abyss.

Positioning is not easy

It’s a snack!

No, I think it’s more of something indulging.

Why? I guess it is more for a short break.

During my career in the food industry, especially in the marketing department, I’ve encountered many times such conversations. Brand Managers, educated in the best business schools in the world, have their difficulties positioning, for example, a simple yogurt drink.

Discussions followed after discussions until the final compromise was reached. The result onto the market was devastating. According to an article in the HBR, the flop rate of newly launched consumer products lies around 75%. There are many studies why new products fail. There is even a museum in Sweden (see below) dealing with this issue.

Brainstormings are inefficient

Other good examples are brainstormings. This creative technique is widely used by Design thinkers and in corporations for idea creation, even if it is not so efficient as many think. One interesting study that confirms this fact was done in a product design firm called IDEO. Yes, you read the right firm name!

In companies, brainstormings lead to many ideas, but much of these ideas are less a result of a storm in the brain than the noise of confusion. Only a few goods will ever be in the client’s hands, and even fewer will remain long enough in the market because feasibility and other parameter are not considered during brainstorming.

One great myth is that when many ideas during brainstorming are generated, really creative ideas will appear and you just have to choose the right one to be successful. That means creativity = success. But this equation is simply not valid. Just because something is new, does not mean, that it is also interesting for your customers.

Innovating a new product is challenging and not trivial

Studies of the leading psychologist in this domain, M. Csikszentmihalyi, show that creativity is something that emerges from within the conscious and cannot be commanded. Especially after the incubation phase, when taking a longer break, new ideas appear subconsciously. That’s why your boss always comes back with good ideas after vacations!

So, to generate useful ideas, the best way is to let people study all necessary data before a meeting, let them take breaks, and then hold a meeting where they can present their newly created ideas. This should be done over a time frame of several months. Spontaneous brainstorming without any data does not bring good results.

*Mirko Stanic is food engineer, innovator and writer based in Switzerland. He has  been traveling to Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East to discover new food markets and flavors. 


+ posts by Foodlosofia

Foodlosofia is a food design studio based in Monterrey, Mexico. We are a design center focused on the Food and Beverage Industry. Our aim is to create profitable, scalable, and sustainable business models that will help us move from commodities to experiences.

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