PF March 2014 coverThis month sees the latest edition of Prepared Foods’ New Products Annual, a chance to revisit some of the products released over the past year. I could not help but view the various launches in something of the same vein as movie releases. There were debuts from bigger companies, as well as quite a few from smaller independents fighting for space in the minds of consumers. In fact, many remind me of poor Fredo Corleone’s situation in The Godfather series. (Spoiler alert: The next paragraph discusses key points of that classic movie series.)

I always feel for Fredo: He was sent to Vegas to run the family business and, despite the “help” (loosely defined) of family associates, found himself over his head and in what could at best be described as less-than-ideal circumstances. At every turn, he proved incapable of the duties expected.

I see the innovative and truly groundbreaking products from the past year and realize that, as statistics have proven, no matter the amount of help, marketing and even worth of mouth, more than 80% of them realistically have no chance in the crowded marketplace. They may well be fantastic products, but the gauge for success -- for films, new foods and beverages, or virtually any product -- is the return on the investment. Simply put, many of these products were doomed from the start, and unlike movies, there is no DVD market for them to build an audience later. But could there be another option?

I have to ask, because recall the success of films such as Office Space, which frankly was a bomb at the box office but managed a second life of sorts with strong VHS and DVD sales. Is there a place for innovative foods and beverages to reach consumers after their grocery aisle days are finished?

Obviously, there are shelflife issues, but look at manufacturers like Mars North America, which offers a website to customize M&M messaging and colors -- for a price. For a smaller company with significant resources (admittedly something of a contradiction) or even financed through a Kickstarter campaign, could a similar approach garner enough support to provide a significant consumer base even before market launch? Frito-Lay already has turned to consumers to design new flavors of Lay’s Potato Chips and garner attention before their debut.

Could there be a second life for foods and beverages that underperformed? Could there be a successful Fredo?