Product failures are a fact of life. They may be a disappointing fact of life, but they are going to happen -- and more often than not. In fact, Inez Blackburn of the University of Toronto, pegs the failure rate for new products launched in the grocery sector at 70-80%, and for smaller companies, the chances of success are even smaller: an estimated 11%. Successes certainly have lessons to teach, though the fact that nearly 90% of successes are line extensions may be the most obvious one.

However, a large brand is not a guarantee of success: Pepsi Crystal was clear and free of caffeine; it launched around the time health and wellness was becoming a center-stage trend, yet it was on shelves for less than two years. Entire careers have been made off of the New Coke disaster of the mid-80s. McDonald's introduced the Hula Burger in the 1960s, around the same time it launched the Filet-O-Fish, but the one with the slice of pineapple between two slices of cheese on a bun never took off. The same decade saw Mixed Vegetable and Celery versions of Jell-O, albeit for only a short time.

What can be learned from all of these failures? Maybe it is like Winston Churchill said, "Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm."

However, failure can bring opportunity. As John Keats put it, "Don't be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid."

At Prepared Foods' R&D Applications Seminar 2011, Bob Jones, principal with Scientia Advisors LLC, explored some of functional foods’ loudest failures in his keynote address, "The Making of Soaring Successes and Cheerless Failures in Products for Health." The question is not necessarily how to develop products that will succeed. It has to be repositioned, to ask, "What can I do to improve the odds of success for the products that I develop?"

The functional foods market in the U.S. will be an area with strong growth potential over the next several years, Jones explained. Scientia, Datamonitor and Packaged Facts analysis valued the 2009 functional foods market in the U.S. at $97 billion and predicted that will reach $135 billion by 2014, an annual growth rate of around 7%.

Consumers will increasingly look to food for benefits relating to heart health (sterols to improve cholesterol, omega-3s for triglycerides); diabetes (low-glycemic products and diets to manage glucose fluctuations); and gut health (with probiotics and prebiotics). As Jones related, "It will no longer be enough for food to be marketed as delicious or convenient or affordable. Soon, it will also have to be healthy -- and maybe even therapeutic." The demand will be for delicious foods that also improve health.

Even with such abundant opportunity, however, there have been failures -- and fairly epic ones, at that, from highly regarded companies. Kellogg's Ensemble was a 21-item line of products ranging from frozen entrees to bread to dry pasta and cookies, all made with psyllium husks or whole oats, to lower cholesterol. It lasted less than a year and may simply have been ahead of its time.

Intelligent Cuisine from Campbell Soup was an even larger line, some 40 items all targeting consumers with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or diabetes. It reportedly took five years and more than $100 million to develop, launched in January 1997 and lasted 15 months. It, too, was early into the functional foods trend, but Intelligent Cuisine also demanded consumers pay $80 a week for the meals to be delivered via UPS.

Probiotics may be widely popular now, but Nestle's LC1 Probiotics debuted in the late 1990s. Despite scientific support, it came long before many American consumers viewed food as a means to manage gut health and was pulled in 2001, less than three years after launching.

In light of these failures, Jones offered some pertinent advice to developers of such products. In effect, the axiom “They need it” does not always mean “They want it,” according to Jones, and companies should ask focused questions about the target audience before beginning formulation efforts. Consider the consumer niche; the need to be addressed; how consumers are handling the problem currently; and the particular requirements, needs and demands of the consumers as a whole.

 Bob Jones, principal with Scientia Advisors, may be reached at
For more information on attending the 2012 Prepared Foods'R&D Applications Seminar, visit

From the February 6, 2012, Prepared Foods E-dition