If you’re big in shredded cheese, chances are you know pretty much everything there is to know about the market, the manufacturing process and the competition. But who do you turn to if you want to make something else?
Your trusted suppliers? Obviously. But what if they can’t take you where you want to go, asks Steve Gundrum, president, CEO and foodie-in-chief of Mattson, the biggest independent developer of new food and beverage products in the US.
“We’re a bunch of foodies. We don’t do anything else. We’ve built our business around helping Fortune 500 companies invent the future.”
One stop shop
While some clients approach Mattson mid-way through a project to get advice on scale up and commercialization, others contact Gundrum’s team at the concept generation stage and work with it all the way to launch, he tells FoodNavigator-USA.
This is not because they are bereft of original ideas (bear in mind Mattson’s client list includes everyone from General Mills to PepsiCo, McCain, Heinz, Hormel Foods and Kraft), just that when you have expertise in one area (shredded cheese) it can be hard to move into something completely different, he says.
“Over the quarter of a century I’ve been doing this the industry has been on a steady but gradual path towards collaborating with innovators like us to help get a broader perspective on where the opportunities are.
“If you’re after a line extension or new flavor, call your trusted suppliers. But if you want to diversify into a completely new product area or move your brand into an adjacent category, that’s when you can really benefit from working with us.”
The food studio: Brainstorming with food, not flip charts…
Services provided by California-based Mattson range from brainstorming - “with real food, not just flip charts” - in its food studio; consumer research/testing; packaging, branding and design input at the
start, not the end of the development process; and helping firms test whether what works in their kitchen will deliver on an industrial scale, he says.
Mattson also works with clients such as the California Raisin Board to help develop innovative concepts around a particular ingredient that can then be pitched to food manufacturers, he says.
And while there are plenty of marketing and design firms out there, along with sensory labs, chefs and packaging consultancies, Mattson is unique in that it provides clients with a one-stop shop, he adds.
“We don’t really have any direct competitors.”
Failure rates for new product development
So how efficient is the new product development (NPD) process these days, and why are big brands still churning out products that fail to set the world on fire?
In many cases, products fail simply because they are not properly supported by marketing and promotions when they hit shelves, or something just falls out of fashion (think the low carb craze), says Gundrum.
Surprisingly few fail because they are just lousy products, he says.
“We sample 10-20 new products a month and it’s not often you sit there scratching your head wondering why on earth they brought this to market.”
A parallel universe, engaging consumers and getting to market first…
In recent years manufacturers have also got better at running the different elements of the NPD process in parallel (sales, marketing, R&D, operations, top management) rather than in a linear fashion where things go back and forth between R&D and marketing, and key stakeholders are brought in at the end rather than the beginning of the process, he says.
However, some firms can still be a little risk averse in their quest to have a “soft landing” when developing new products, he says.
“My one wish is that some companies could be just a bit more entrepreneurial and less risk averse, without being reckless.”
Online consumer feedback panels
As for consumer feedback, this is absolutely key, he says. But it doesn’t have to cost the earth or slow you down.
“We have built a reputation for using online consumer guidance panels and working with them as a bell weather group through the process. You can turn things around in two or three days.”
A new panel can be recruited for each project, enabling Mattson to engage with small groups of target consumers continuously as concepts and products are developed, tweaked and refined, he says.
Once prototypes are ready Mattson ships them out to panelists and awaits feedback.
Protein, whole grains, all-natural labels and fewer ingredients
So what are most clients thinking about when they knock on Mattson’s door?
Protein, whole grains, natural claims, shorter ingredients lists, convenience and health & wellness - ideally delivered through ingredients/foods that are inherently rich in nutrients rather than via fortification - says Gundrum.
“Protein has really gone mass market. It’s right at the center of the bell curve, although it can be expensive and there are flavor challenges. If we could find a new plant-based protein that has a neutral flavor and is cost-effective, that would be a real no brainer for the industry.”