Editor’s Note: Although there may be a pandemic-related slowdown, there’s no stopping new product development. To help readers with new product development strategy, Prepared Foods asked Dave Lundahl, founder of InsightsNow, to create a thought leadership series connecting R&D with consumer insights. 

Lundahl has held many industry leadership positions, written for various publications, and is sought for speaking engagements on topics that align with his passions. He served as a professor working in food product innovation at Oregon State University before starting InsightsNow in 2003. Dave holds a Master of Science degree in Statistics and a Doctorate in Food Science & Technology. 

A variation of an old idiom states, “necessity is the mother of innovation.” As food developers, necessity is often defined by marketers identifying white space to direct development efforts with the consumer in mind. Yet, in a global world undergoing change, today’s definition of necessity goes beyond the needs and wants of consumers. It requires a broader definition of what is necessary, and this includes both articulated and unarticulated consumer needs, as well as the greater good.    

The past year has put a spotlight on thoughtful innovation. While many companies, brands and manufacturers have had to cut back on innovation efforts, there are others who—with an eye toward the greater good—have been approaching innovation as a tool to make our current world a cleaner, healthier, happier place for us all. Perhaps surprisingly, this time of challenge and difficulty has been rich with creativity. 

The food industry is a case in point. Plant-based innovation is exploding. The definition of clean label foods is evolving. Waves of new ingredients that enable innovation for the greater good are flowing into the hands of food product developers. Vaults of scientific advances are being opened to provide new technology-based platforms from precision fermentation to cellular meat production. It’s an exciting time for the food product developer. It’s also a time of change, where some of the norms for food product development are no longer relevant. 

Concept Creation
Innovation for the greater good requires a shift in focus at the pre-concepting phase of the innovation process, often called the “fuzzy front end.” Concepting for the greater good starts by defining the consumer behavior change necessary for the greater good and working backwards.

For a market leader in a certain food category, that leader would likely not put effort into concepts created to completely disrupt a loyal customer base. This brand would more likely create concepts to nudge their consumers along to continue supporting the brand through new or updated products or services.

By contrast, new-to-market brands may find the most success in disrupting their target consumers, looking to supplant the category market leaders. They do this by promising and delivering new and innovative benefits, perhaps benefits that will help consumers cope in a changing world. This shift dramatically changes the developer’s focus. By thinking behavioral and working backwards, the conceptual front end of innovation is free to go beyond just making food healthier to helping people feel happier about their food choices on many dimensions. This includes making a lasting positive impact on the world.  

Delving into the Non-Conscious to Build Better Products  
Getting the concept right gets you only half the way to success. Successful innovation for the greater good requires delivering on the promise—often in ways that consumers may not even be aware.

Most product impressions are made through non-conscious mental processes called ”implicit” or “fast thinking.” These impressions result in an “approach or avoid” emotional reaction to motivate choice. When nudging, a product designed for the greater good must look, feel, sound and taste like current habitually used products. When disrupting, new higher order benefits must be easily associated with the built-in qualities that signal those benefits.

For example, products positioned as “natural” will be more implicitly accepted when they are irregular in shape and have blemishes, than products signaling a highly manufactured product with a uniform appearance. 

Expanding Your Insights Toolbox  
Developing new products for the greater good requires a shift from classical product development to behavioral product development, in much the same way that traditional supply-demand economics has been replaced by behavioral economics.

Making this shift requires a more interdisciplinary approach with marketing, sensory and consumer insights throughout the innovation process. This will help the whole team including marketers, product developers and innovators alike make better decisions. Looking deeply into the triggers and motivators of non-conscious thinking helps identify those outcomes that could nudge or disrupt current behaviors and habits toward a cleaner, healthier and happier world.   

This is certainly an exciting time for the food industry. Congresswoman and Silicon Valley representative Anna Eshoo once noted that “innovation is the calling card of the future.” As food product developers, we have the opportunity—and the imperative—to ensure that the future in question is a brighter one.

To learn more about behavioral product development for the greater good, you can access the InsightsNow® Innovation Center™ (https://www.insightsnow.com/innovation-center/) or the CRAEVS Solution.