CHICAGO — What makes a product truly innovative? Depends whom you ask. And, as it turns out, the industry and the consumer have differing views.
The topic was discussed by industry analysts during the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition, held July 16-19 in Chicago.
Researchers at Mintel, Chicago, use proprietary survey methodology to collect consumer input on every reported food and beverage product launched in the United States each year. The analysts identified five innovative products debuting this year and measured consumer reactions and purchase intent of those products.
One product was Labni Mediterranean Kefir Yogurt Snack from Los Angeles-based Kronfli Bros. Varieties include mint and garlic, lavender and honey, and sundried tomato and basil. Mintel analysts predicted the product would bring a unique twist to the crowded yogurt category; however, consumer feedback indicated reluctance to experiment with unusual flavors or an unfamiliar product concept, especially if the product is relatively pricey.
Only 24% of consumers surveyed by Mintel said they would buy Labni, compared to 41% of consumers who said they would buy any spoonable yogurt. Labni may eventually catch on; consumers just may be slow to adopt it, said Lynn Dornblaser, director of innovation and insight at Mintel.
“Greek yogurt took three or four years or more to really hit with consumers,” she said. “Sometimes with something a little far out there, be prepared to nurture it along a little bit, and you can still have a big success.”
Another recently launched product Mintel identified as innovative was 1893 From the Makers of Pepsi-Cola Ginger Cola, which was inspired by the brand’s original recipe.
“It ties into that sense of provenance and authenticity,” Ms. Dornblaser said. “(But) what we see is consumers don’t get it. They understand the product is unique, but uniqueness is not a strong driver of purchase…
“When we dig a little deeper, we see there’s some resistance to the category of carbonated soft drinks and some resistance to sugar. The other problem is the flavor; ginger is polarizing.”
She added, “It hits on a lot of trends we think are important, but I think it’s important to keep in mind consumers don’t choose what they don’t understand, especially when it’s in a category that has its own set of challenges.”
One of Mintel’s picks that rated favorably among consumers was Kraft salad dressing in two-serving pouches from the Kraft Heinz Co. Varieties include zesty lime, golden Italian, classic ranch, lite balsamic and chipotle mango.
“This salad dressing outperforms the category by a significant margin,” Ms. Dornblaser said.
Forty-six per cent of consumers said they would buy the product, compared with 38% of consumers who said they would buy any salad dressing. Here’s why it’s a hit: The brand is recognizable, the flavor varieties are familiar, and 60% of consumers rated the product format as convenient, twice that of all dressings.
“This is a case of the brand and flavor and purpose and communication all coming together and communicating very well to consumers what this product is all about and hit the needs consumers have,” Ms. Dornblaser said.
So, what products do consumers consider innovative and exciting? Top picks introduced this year include Sargento Tomato & Basil Jack sliced cheese, Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Premium Brownie Mix, and Nestle Dreyer’s Slow Churned California Caramel Almond Crunch Light ice cream. Consumers’ top choices were almost all indulgent treats from established brand names, and most were repackages, restages or reformulations.
Based on these findings, Mintel identified a couple more recent launches featuring these attributes. Ben & Jerry’s new line of non-dairy frozen desserts marries the trend of dairy alternatives with the strength of the brand name, combining indulgence and perceived healthfulness associated with vegan and non-dairy products. Consumer purchase intent of the products was higher than that of other frozen desserts, including dairy-based ice creams, Ms. Dornblaser said.
Another new product expected to resonate with consumers is Oreo Thins cookies, which Ms. Dornblaser described as the “perfect combination of new and familiar.” Oreo Thins, which is a crispier version of the popular sandwich cookie, was rated by consumers as the most exciting cookie launch since January, and the purchase intent of the product was almost twice that of all cookies, Mintel research found. Additionally, because Oreo Thins were found to be more likely an additional category purchase than other cookies demonstrates the potential to grow the entire cookie market, Ms. Dornblaser noted.
“This illustrates the power in innovation being something familiar, plus something that’s just a little bit different,” she said. “You can think about innovation in two ways — close-in innovation and longer-term innovation. Close-in innovation is all about that flavor, new package, shift in functionality. Those scored the highest among consumers. It’s something familiar with a twist, like Oreo Thins.“But there is still a lot of opportunity for far-out, longer-term innovation. Something to keep in mind is not all trends are for all consumers… It’s important to know whom you’re aiming your revolutionary new product to. Success for something that’s very innovative is quite often a slow build.”