- Innovation remains a tricky concept for any manufacturer to master, and determining what will be successful is difficult to determine as consumers' and manufacturers' perceptions differ, according to a Mintel survey and panel of industry analysts during the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food expo last week.
- While many consumers today want more adventurous and exotic flavors, manufacturers walk a fine line between producing innovative flavors consumers want and those that are so unfamiliar that consumers are hesitant to try them.
- What resonated with consumers this year trended along indulgent treats from established brands. Most of the top products from Mintel's survey were repackages, restages or reformulations.
Mintel identified Labni Mediterranean Kefir Yogurt Snack and PepsiCo's 1893 From the Makers of Pepsi-Cola Ginger Cola as innovative products, but both missed with consumers.
Labni's flavor varieties, such as mint and garlic or lavender and honey, infused unique flavors into the yogurt category. However, survey results and analysts said the newness of the flavors and unfamiliarity with the kefir yogurt concept made consumers reluctant to try it.
PepsiCo's 1893 product had a similar issue with ginger, which can be a polarizing flavor. But another key challenge for PepsiCo is that the product is still soda, and many health-conscious consumers no longer regularly purchase soda and sugary beverages. Using "real" cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup has been one strategy for PepsiCo and other soda makers, but in this case, the 1893 ginger cola's cane sugar and innovative flavor weren't enough to overcome concerns about the soda category in general.
One product that hit the mark, according to Mintel's survey, was Kraft salad dressing in two-serving pouches from Kraft Heinz. Consumers embraced this innovation—which combined a recognizable brand and familiar flavor varieties such as golden Italian and classic ranch—by giving it a convenience rating, twice as high as other salad dressings.
Other examples of successful innovations were Ben & Jerry's non-dairy ice creams and Mondelez's Oreo Thins, which brought together recognizable brand names and fast-growing trends in food and beverage — plant-based dairy and "thin" snacks, respectively, according to Mintel.
These results suggest that when manufacturers approach innovation, they don't necessarily have to reinvent the category. Making smaller changes to recognizable brands can do more for sales growth than inventing a new product or concept that consumers aren't yet ready to embrace.