SKU Presentation: Keys to Successful Innovation

In our monthly “SKU View” series, food pioneer It leverages the expertise of the mentors at SKU, a consumer products accelerator based in Austin, Texas, to provide timely insights into issues affecting early-stage food and beverage brands.

Austin, Texas – A food scientist with a passion for health and wellness, Lauren Gans leads research and development for SmartSweets, a brand of low-sugar candy. She was previously a product and process developer at Mondelez International, Inc.

“In the world of food, innovation must be value-added, scalable and accessible,” she said. “Your product should give the consumer something that is lacking today. That could be better taste, better nutrition, a more convenient format, or a number of other added values.”

In a recent interview, she highlighted how early stage brands can achieve successful innovation while facing current industry-wide challenges.

food pioneer: How do you define innovation?

Lauren Gans: In a simple sentence, I think innovation is about identifying a gap and using creativity to solve it in a way that adds value. It takes an idea, have the patience and persistence to iterate over and over, and know how to market it par excellence.

What are your keys to successful innovation?

Multiple sclerosis. Yan: Ultimately, your innovation should give consumers something they can’t get anywhere else. Innovation must also be scalable. The best ideas in the world will not be feasible if they cannot be scaled up and marketed. And your innovation must be available to your target consumers. It should be at a price point that they can justify and sell on physical or digital sites that feel comfortable enough to become part of their routine buying habits.

What factors should be considered when developing a new product innovation?

Multiple sclerosis. Yan: There are many complex components of the innovation process, and the most important part is ensuring that each component is addressed early and consistently. You must be aware of costs, manufacturing feasibility, market scalability, competitive landscape, and consumer needs from day one until launch.

I think the best way to make sure you’re dealing with all the important factors throughout the process is to have a cross-functional post from the start. Don’t isolate your innovation until it’s ready to go – get collective input throughout the process and you’ll always find you’re 10 steps away at the end.

How should early brands approach innovation in the current inflationary environment? Is it okay not to innovate now?

Multiple sclerosis. Yan: This is a tough question, and I think every company will have a different perspective. There is no doubt that the current inflationary environment along with a really challenging supply chain landscape makes it very difficult for early stage brands to balance innovation and survival mode.

I think it’s important to prioritize the health of your current work, but also devote some resources to innovating quietly in the background if possible. Keeping abreast of market trends and supply chain issues can ensure that you’re not innovating with components or products that will soon become inaccessible. Ultimately, if innovation is currently out of reach, using your energy to deeply understand your customer base and to scale your business can set you up for successful future innovation.

How big of a role does market research play in innovation?

Multiple sclerosis. Yan: For me, market research is very important to the innovation process. But I also think it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive to be valuable. For larger companies, it is of course beneficial to purchase market data to inform your innovation pipeline based on trends. But for early-stage brands, there are plenty of precarious ways to get low-cost market research. If you can create a brand identity that is truly personal, you can connect with your customers on a deeper level than any other CPG giant can.

Tools such as social media and even email can be really useful to talk directly with early adopters who are loyal to understand why they are buying your product and what they would like to see in the future. On top of that, I think it’s really important to pay attention to the competitive landscape of your category and understand where and how you can add value. Simply buying your competitors’ products and finding ways to bypass their value subsidies can be very beneficial during the development process.

Finally, it is very important to seek feedback from people outside your organization before launching. Running a quick neighborhood focus group with some loyal fans or testing a product with your friends and family can be a really helpful way to make sure your product tastes, feels and feels like you think. It’s really important to get past your organizational bias and gather real-world feedback about your product before you launch it.

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