Phase out novelty, unsustainable NPD and focus on long-term products | Commentary and opinion


It’s the new year and food brands are back with a whole new invention. The problem is, it’s a lot of novelty for novelty. Rather than the NDP which significantly addresses health and sustainability challenges, too often we see things like chewing gum flavored breakfast cereal.

In the world of food research and development, companies are in a hurry to have the next new product on the shelves or on the menu. The world’s largest food companies spend a fortune on R&D. Nestlé and PepsiCo’s combined R&D spending from 2016 to 2020 was over £ 9 billion, more than the annual GDP of many countries from Malawi to Moldova.

Too often this rush culminates in a race to the bottom. Companies try to come up with cheaper products, even if it means running something or someone. Much of R&D relies solely on the novelty factor, fueling overconsumption and waste.

To borrow some famous words: “Okay, stop, collaborate and listen”. I would add, “Channel your R&D spending into something meaningful”, but the pace is not that catchy.

Stop: the race to the bottom is not the right race. And mindless rush will get us nowhere in the long run. Hit the pause button and use the time to think outside the box. Decide to turn “new product development” into “no minor development”. The novelty products – the next self-heating coffee can or the personalized chocolate figure – do nothing to improve food for humans, animals, or the planet.

Collaborate: Look beyond the individual product and instead work with suppliers, customers, and your own staff to ask how your brand can contribute to healthy and eco-friendly diets for all. What if companies join forces in innovation to spend their money differently and channel their ideas towards creating fairer and more biodiverse food systems? What if, instead of the usual switch between plastic, glass and cardboard packaging, companies collaborate to completely design the need for virgin packaging and accelerate the rollout of industry-wide refill models?

And listen: there are some bold ideas if you’re up to the challenge. Sue Pritchard of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission recently challenged big food companies to only bring a new product to market if they abandon 10 unhealthy or unnecessary products from their lines. Replacing one product with one that is progressively different is not sufficient as an NPD strategy. We need more reverse NPD, where the most unhealthy products and unsustainable ingredients are removed from product portfolios.

Let’s ditch the casual adjustments to flavors and formats in the name of supposed convenience and novelty. Redirect R&D time and effort into creative new ways to meet the challenges of our times in sustainability, health and inequality – and to make what you already have fairer for humans, animals and the world. planet.

What would I like to see as the most used words in the industry this year? Courage. Transformation. Integrity. And well-being – with a particular focus on the well-being of farmers and all those who work to ensure that good food on our plates. The past year has been exhausting and overwhelming for many. Elastic bands can only stretch until they reach the breaking point.

I wish you a safe and healthy 2022, full of new ideas. But no new chewing gum-flavored breakfast cereals, please.

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