For each of the past 36 years, our staff has focused its efforts on developing an engaging program for the Prepared Foods New Products Conference. Though specific topics of discussion shift from year to year, the fundamental aim is to present the food product development community with a snapshot of where the industry is and where it may be headed. 

This year, the conference theme was “Invert the Pyramid,” which describes the idea of setting out with a broad and open approach to product development and then dialing in details through iteration and testing. Essentially, the suggestion is to allow for discovery at the outset of a project. Work with the intention of uncovering a source of inspiration within the unknown.

The idea itself may initially seem too broad to hold any resonant meaning. However, when filtered through presentations at the 2018 New Products Conference, the notion of inverting the pyramid takes shape in a number of inspired examples.

Discussions of eCommerce pervade corporate boardrooms and entrepreneurial gatherings throughout the food and beverage industry. Betsy McGinn, CEO, McGinn eComm, suggested that innovators broaden their fundamental approaches to product development as they consider how eCommerce dovetails with their business. According to McGinn, most successful food and beverage companies will position eCommerce as a fundamental pillar within their business model. In doing so, product ideation and execution must take into account specific eCommerce best practices regarding food efficacy and safety as well as packaging. A product that functions on a retail shelf may very well require a somewhat different development process when moving through eCommerce channels. McGinn’s basic message: Alter your approach.

The mountain of money spent to market products and influence consumer behavior may only be 5% effective, according to Dr. A.K. Pradeep, CEO, MachineVantage. The unconscious consumer mind houses 95% of the drivers of consumer decision-making, says Dr. Pradeep, whose work in artificial intelligence and algorithms has sought to identify what influences the unconscious aspects of mind. In no uncertain terms, Dr. Pradeep encourages product developers to broaden their research and study of consumer behavior and begin to place value on intangible and diverse emotional stimuli that make consumers who they are. Within this framework, according to Dr. Pradeep, lie the seeds for innovation.

Rizal Hamdallah, Head of Innovation Lab, Tyson Foods, indicated that his mission is to challenge product developers to rethink consumer packaged goods… for good. It is not about “process,” says Hamdallah. The essential aspects of innovation spring from culture, principle and framework. In other words, the context in which an idea comes to life, its reason for being and how it is shaped are the fundamental acting forces required for success in product development. He calls for innovators to employ this unconventional approach and put themselves in a “timebox” (essentially a stiff deadline) to bring inspired products to market. 

Whether combing through giant data sets to uncover unidentified consumer trends or finding a place within food business systems by joining forces with networks of entrepreneurs or following the leading edge of scientific discovery in gut health and the micro-biome, food and beverage innovators have unprecedented avenues to determine the way forward. 

Beginning by facing the vast unknown may be the most effective approach to discovering the essence of why your product innovations should come into the world.