October 3/Deerfield, Ill./Prepared Foods-- The 29th Annual New Products Conference was held September 12-14 in Naples, Fla., with a range of speakers and topics addressing the latest trends and expectations of food and beverage consumers.

Delivering the keynote address, Denny Belcastro, executive vice president of industry affairs and membership services with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), explained how shopper trips are shrinking and that in-home pantries now have reduced  amounts of grocery staples. He also delved into the effects of the troubled economy on consumers of all incomes and related GMA research into shopper views.

Shopper Views by Annual Household Income

  • $50,000+ -- slightly more optimistic, mom tuned to "affordable indulgences," rewarded as value shoppers, deal hunters.
  • $25,000-50,000 -- decreasing "stock-up" trips while increasing "fill-in" trips; shop closer to payday; few regular stores; fans of store brands.
  • Less than $25,000 -- growing difficulty in affording day-to-day items; loyal to retailers and brands; fixed dollar amount for food.

Source: Grocery Manufacturers Association


The factors influencing shopper purchase decisions was also a topic for Laurie Klein, vice president of The Family Room, who explored the changing dynamics of the relationships between parents and their children, notably in the area of shopping experiences. Purchase decisions are now a web of collaboration, with moms trying to balance their non-negotiable needs (easy preparation, kid delight and "real food" expectations) with those of the children (taste, portability and the "fills me up" factor). As Klein noted, "Those companies that are engaging the whole family are seeing the greatest success."

For one speaker, companies failed to meet her family’s need for a tasty gluten-free cookie treat, so she took matters into her own hands. Dr. Lucy Gibney, president and CEO of Lucy’s Cookies, explained that though her company was borne of a desire to provide a cookie her child with celiac disease could eat safely (and that other children -- and adults -- would want to share), the company goal is products for everyone, not solely those with allergy concerns. Some 12 million Americans have food allergies, with another 18 million gluten sensitive (roughly 3 million having celiac disease), resulting in a market of roughly 30 million consumers, plus their friends and family.

Gibney was a prime example of a key bit of advice from Chris Miller, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Innovation Focus: "Find a problem in the world worth solving and make it yours to solve." He continued and observed that “innovation is an innate human skill; it's just that some are better at it than others.”

One speaker represented a company recognized for its innovation efforts. Greg Klein, executive vice president of marketing and R&D with Sadler's Smokehouse, explained some of the secrets behind his company's success. Driving its growth has been education and sampling, proper sizing, pricing, packaging and incentives, plus the extended shelflife available from HPP technology, which has allowed the products a 60-day shelflife. Proper sizing has allowed the company to meet the needs of everyone from caterers (with a 50lb product) to the average family need of a product at the $19.99 price point, even down to a $9.99 product which has itself added distribution potential.

Pricing of new products may prove crucial to product launches, as the economy continues to struggle. In fact, Lynn Dornblaser and Dave Jago, directors of the custom solutions group with Mintel International, noted there is a growing opportunity in targeting less-affluent consumers. In addition, the pair explained lessons learned from successful products and from introductions that met with less-than-ideal results. Their recommendations and observations included:

  • Leverage existing technology to create something unexpected but not unfamiliar.
  • Challenge consumer assumptions.
  • Remove the sense of "punishment"; make the brand one consumers are happy to be seen with.
  • Consumers are skeptical. Focus on the essentials.
  • Create something consumers did not know they wanted but will make a habit.

That last bit of advice echoed a sentiment of Andre Teixeira’s in discussing “Truly Global Strategies: “Consumers know what they want; however, they do not know what they will want.”  Companies, he explained, no longer have a choice about being global; it is now second only to "innovation" as a business mantra. While global may be happening everywhere, there is no such thing as a global consumer: they are inherently local. So, global does not mean the end of local. His advice:

  • focus on the individual.
  • use modern, global methodologies.
  • understand local anthropoloy.
  • challenge rituals, explore habits.

What does he believe is the greatest challenge to marketers? Habit: 95% of behavior is habit, a factor which marketers almost completely ignore.

Kevin Higar, director of operator product development with Technomic, explored foodservice success strategies that could make their way into retail products, notably focusing on price points (particularly in mini options), paying close attention to flavor, bringing regional tastes to consumers who probably cannot recreate them, the perception that “local” requires less travel time to market; branding that creates trust and can be integrated into needstates and lifestyles; indulgence where the ordinary becomes extraordinary; and familiarity, where the consumers know who you are, which can make everything just a little bit better.

Andrew Dun, vice president of business development with Insight Beverages, delved into a topic garnering great attention: weight management. He noted 69% of U.S. consumers are overweight or obese, while 55% say "trying to lose weight" best describes what they are doing. When it comes to weight management products, taste and flavor will be a means of keeping consumers, but the price of entry will be the efficacy of the product.

Delving into a number of food regulation topics, Steven Steinborn, partner with Hogal Lovell LLC, began by noting, “In terms of gluten-free, the FDA is slowly doing the right thing, whereby the 2007 proposed rule is not yet final, but it is being used as a yardstick and has been reproposed (with its 20ppm standard).” When it comes to front-of-pack labeling, he related, FDA is committed to the concept but has made few concrete steps and has, in fact, been dropped from FDA's priority list in favor of revamping the Nutrition Facts panel. If making a low-sodium claims, Steinborn advised, make it a 25% reduction or say nothing on the label. In fact, a pair of speakers at this year’s conference stood strong in defense of salt.

During a morning session devoted to “The Case for Salt,” Ron DeSantis, director of Continuing Education’s  Industry Solutions Group, and David Kamen, project manager, both with The Culinary Institute of America, explained, “Salt can spark a great food, but more than half of Americans (65%) are concerned about their sodium levels. Yet many have little to no idea where the greatest sodium levels are in many diets: bread for any number of consumers.” The average American is exceeding the 2300mg recommendation for sodium, but very little is being added at the table or during cooking; the vast majority goes into manufactured foods.

Eric Sparks, in defining how to protect the integrity of a finished manufactured product, explained the first factor is to define the gold standard: its key attributes, the art part (culinary and cooking techniques), common terminology (a vocabulary to be used in describing the product), established analytical data, its intended retherm (how it is going to be reheated and served) and finished application, and of course, cost concerns. Most importantly, Sparks, the corporate director of R&D with Park 100 Foods, advises to always compare against that gold standard.

The 2012 New Products Conference will be held September 9-12 at the Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach, Fla. For more information, visit www.newproductsconference.com.

From the October 3 Prepared Foods' E-dition