We often hear the saying that consumer is the King or Queen. This means that eventually consumers decide whether new product market launches succeed. This is also the case with new foods. 72–88%1,2 of new consumer products fail mostly because consumers did not accept them for some reason or another. It means that resources have been used to develop non competitive products. Can something be done differently to avoid wasting R&D resources?
Consumers have a pivotal role in the success of new food products
Integrating consumers to the new food product development improves the odds of market success3, 4. Therefore, plenty of research has been devoted to understanding the reasons behind consumer acceptance of new foods. This work has established some fundamental criteria that each new food product needs to meet to become successful. The product needs to be tasty and convenient to use, and price needs to be right. However, can we really think that all those failed products either taste bad, are expensive or difficult to use? Most likely the right answer is no. Why so many foods do not meet with the consumers’ expectations?
Before the new food product enters into consumer’s shopping basket, there are many critical moments.
I am putting myself in the consumer’s shoes and imagine that I am making my food choices in a supermarket: First, the new product needs to catch my eye. Second, it needs to tell me why it is relevant to me. Third, it needs to be clear to me how I can use the new product, since most likely it will replace some other more familiar product in my shopping basket. Finally, the price should be somewhat in line with the other alternatives for that specific use. If these criteria are met, I will consider buying the product. The product has a very short moment to convince me and break my normal shopping routines. Only after these steps, I will have a chance to consume and to taste the product. If I am happy with the taste, I might buy it again.
Consumer research facilitates successful product development but is challenging
The previous example, although very straightforward, illustrates the complexity of developing a winning food product to the market and the amount of different aspects, which need to be taken into account before the product launch. The product must win in both market introduction and quality. In order to facilitate the process, consumer research can offer a wide toolbox ranging from surveys and experimental studies to identify target consumer segments and test the products to interviews, focus groups and co-creation sessions to produce in-depth consumer understanding. Nowadays, the different consumer research tools are routinely used in new product development, but the failure rate remains high.
One major challenge in consumer studies is to be able to reflect the real decision-making moment. Study designs simply cannot take into account all possible variables, which affect consumers’ behavior. On top of that, consumer researchers know that consumers have tendency to exaggerate their opinions, they might be shy to express their views, the opinions they reveal might have only little relevance in real-life behavior, or they might not even be able to put their thoughts into words. It might also be that researchers just simply did not understand to ask all the right questions. This means that at the end there are many indications of potential consumer behavior, which then need to be interpreted and applied to real-life context filled with factors that were not present in the study design. This is a demanding task.
Real-life consumer studies have potential to boost new food product development
What if the consumer research toolbox is taken into a real-life consumption environment? What if the consumers can vote with their wallet and researchers are able to catch that voting moment to understand why consumers made a decision to buy or not to buy? Or what if the study design can be adjusted in a moment and see how consumers’ behavior change?
I believe that the data gathered in real consumption environment goes beyond what the traditional consumer research methods can offer for applied research. This is one of the reasons, why VTT along with Fazer Food Services and IBM have invested in TestEat research restaurant. We are now taking our first steps to understand how we can perform these types of studies and how the data can be interpreted and applied.
We welcome, but also challenge, other partners to join us in this unique endeavor!
Ultimately, the main purpose of TestEat research restaurant and crEATe ecosystem is not to satisfy scientists’ curiosity, but to assist industry to take even small steps ahead towards meeting consumers’ expectations even better than before. Those small steps might turn out to be very valuable in a fierce competition on the products succeeding at market.
Kyösti Pennanen, Senior Scientist, consumer research
1 Nielsen (2014). Nielsen breakthrough innovation report – European edition. September 2014. Available at: https://www.nielsen.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2019/04/Breakthrough_Innovation_Report_EU_FINAL.pdf
2 Stewart-Know, B. & Mitchell, P. (2003). What separates the winners from the losers in new food product development. Trends in Food Science and Technology, 14, 58–64.
3 Horvat, A., Granato, G., Fogliano, V. & Luning, P.A. (2019). Understanding consumer data use in new product development and the product life cycle in European food firms – An empirical study. Food Quality and Preference, 79, 20–32.
4 Dijksterhuis, G. (2016). New product failure: Five potential sources discussed. Trends in Food Science and Technology, 50, 243–248.