What does it take to be ahead of what’s next?
Progressive Grocer has long sought answers to this question in the grocery space — and now we’ve expanded our quest for knowledge to consumer packaged goods companies, which largely maintain the pipeline of new and exciting products that will entice shoppers into stores this year and in the future.
[Read more: "Where Are Consumers’ Heads – and Wallets – This Year?"]
To find out their varying approaches to innovation, PG checked with eight companies — and one marketing firm — across various categories. Many told us that they depend on deep consumer research and technology-driven insights to inform their innovation decisions, although perhaps the most on-point answer came from Scott Aakre, SVP, Brand Fuel at Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods, who described the concept as “really an art and a science,” relying as it does on an “it” factor that goes far beyond shopper analyses or the latest tech solutions. After all, we’re all aware of products that probably sounded good on paper but in the real world, not so much. This past year, for instance, there was online-exclusive Coca-Cola Byte, billed rather grandly by the company as “the first-ever Coca-Cola flavor born in the metaverse,” but which one reviewer likened to “raspberry-flavored cardboard.”
Still, despite the occasional setback, CPG companies “must be open to new, relevant products that add value to the brand and the company’s value proposition, and profit to the bottom line,” note Maile Buker and Simon Waters, CMOs with Chief Outsiders, a fractional CMO firm focused on helping companies build their engines for revenue growth, in the article “How CPG Companies Can Grow in a Recession.” Buker and Waters add that “the right products with the right advertising and corporate initiative will be profitable.”
Of course, as the CMOs observe with their references to advertising and corporate initiative, it’s not just product innovation alone that’s important. Among the CPG companies we asked, David Wagstaff, managing director of Manchester, England-based St Pierre, rightly calls a singular focus on new items “a limited view,” affirming the importance of packaging, branding and merchandising as part of the whole process.
Read on to find out more about how CPG companies are working to anticipate the needs of shoppers, and to even receive a preview of a few forthcoming SKUs slated to hit shelves in 2023. (Note: Comments have been edited for length and clarity.)