With a failure rate in the US for new Grocery products of over 80% which rises to almost 90% if launched by a small business, US brands could be forgiven for a strategy of making regular incremental improvements to existing products, rather than Innovating. Irish food and drink failure rates are slightly better at 80% and Canadian brands hover around the 85% mark of new products failing. Clearly this is an ongoing issue, as old as the FMCG industry itself.

In part that’s due to shoppers being creatures of habit, intransigent and with an established repertoire it’s hard to move them on from. Check out the harassed parents on autopilot in store hurriedly adding items to their trolleys with the children buzzing round the aisles, or internet shoppers robotically clicking ‘re-order previous order’.

However, there is so much happening in the world of Market Research and it’s impacting on grocery brands in a major way. There is increasing reliance on observation of hard behavioural shopper data where researchers watch posture, voice, skin, heart and voice responses and collate these consumer biomarkers. Technology is helping automate social media with analytics deployed to detect emerging shopper themes as well as shifts in food and drink sentiments and passions. All this is happening at the same time as a welcome shift away from 30-40 minute questionnaires to shorter, smarter on the go surveys delivered in store or online – often at the very moment of choice or later at the purchase point in the shopping experience.
Having been helping companies successfully launch FMCG products for almost twenty years, I’d say the most important factor in predicting success is planning and preparation. Of course i’ts right to obsess about the consumer perception and vital to hard wire consumer feedback into the product proposition from the start, but there are a number of classic traps to avoid:

Asking the wrong questions – Coke Life over in Europe is a case in point. When you ask men if they want less sugar and calories in their soft drinks but still keep the taste, there are few rejectors for the proposition. But digging deeper would have revealed that men were lukewarm about this ‘hybrid’ proposition with a 30% less calorie positioning, preferring either ‘full’ Coke or a no sugar/calorie version. The role of the market research professiomal here is to ask the follow up questions, challenge the embedded assumptions in the research design and posit the ‘what if’ questions in the right way.

Skewed results – I’ve seen, typically in large companies but not exclusively so, that there is a kind of ‘unstoppage force’ that builds up around some NPD launches. It’s caused by a variety of factors which can include C-suite level sponsorship, organisational politics, a wish to capture freely flowing resources, a desire to placate shareholders, groupthink and a kind of cult that can grow up in the project team where the NPD takes on a life and momentum of its own. When individuals or organisations want a certain outcome of research there is a tendency to interpret, position or nuance results to talk to the desired outcome. The role of the expert market researcher in this scenario is to stand firm and speak the truth in this scenario no matter how unpopular this is.

Ticking the box – sometimes brands see market research as a ‘box to be ticked’, seeing the whole activity through the lens of creating a couple of pages in the investor presentation that help convince funders on board, or filling out a few pages in the internal business case for top management to approve. In this scenario, the role of the market research adviser is to elevate research from a low interest side show and show in practical and commercial ways the full value that research can bring to the pricing, product proposition, brand values and marketing approach.

“Just tell me how to sell it” – sometimes brands can be fixated on how the product looks, delivers, functions, is priced and where it is sold. Here market research is thought about in terms of being able to answer the question of how the business should sell the product. Whilst that is something well within the capabilities of research, it can do so much more. The role of the market research professional in this scenario is to add value over and above answering the narrow communications question – for instance using the research to inform aspects of the products packaging, pricing, merchandising as part of the research process so that the client gains additional value from the research and perhaps has a less functionalist view of research next time round.

‘Too much, too soon’ – there is a trend as the world is now ‘always on’ of brands wanting very quick research results. The big data research houses have trained clients that insights can come very quickly as they have developed expensive, elaborate software models to deliver precisely that. However, true insight and precision often takes time and speed often comes at the cost of accuracy or applicability of results. Another by-product of this quest for speed is that brands research needs can move on extremely quickly, fed by this rapid research results. The outworking of this is brands can find themselves constantly chasing the next ‘shiny’ area or insight and in a perpetual research motion skimming huge topic areas. Whereas a slower more methodical approach would result in genuine insights being uncovered. The role of the market research expert is often to manage expectations in the right way and to ensure that the project is delivered painstakingly in a way that balances the desired speed with the accuracy and applicability of the insights.

Let’s also not forget that great as Market Research is, it can’t solve everything on its own. The fight for distribution through trade sales, designing smooth transit through the supply chain, creating stand out on shelf through packaging, and gaining engagement with consumers through marketing are also critical focus areas. Research can inform many of these areas, but it takes an integrated approach to succeed. Ultimately the product needs to be well priced for the value it delivers, of consistent quality and have sufficient appeal to be repurchased once the initial consumer interest has cooled. I am a firm believer that with enough market research, planning and preparation then brands can beat the odds.

Hamish Renton is Managing Director of HRA Food & Drink, Europe’s leading Food and Drink consultancy specialising in Market Research. Learn more at www.food-and-drink.marketing.