The power of innovation at Natural Products Expo West

Innovation fuels the growth in the consumer package goods industry.  New products create excitement and keep consumers coming back. The natural channel is the incubator, or the R&D department, of the natural products industry.

It's always exciting to see all of the new products at Expo.  This year was no exception.  It never ceases to amaze me how creative companies and brands can be with ingredients, branding, products, and marketing.  I saw everything from ground-up bug guts to dancing monkeys this year. It was a lot of fun.  

Perhaps the most exciting thing for me about the natural channel is the ability for a creative person to turn an idea into a viable product in an extremely short amount of time. For example, Mega Food turned a concept into a new product in just months and launched at Expo. There were hundreds of other stories of brands capitalizing on consumer trends by differentiating themselves with new and innovative flavors, aromas, and product features.  

Innovation like this in mainstream typically take several years, involves huge committees, requires a lot of focused consumer research, and cost a tremendous amount of money. Consumer focus groups typically consist of paid volunteers to share their opinions about products behind a one-way mirror. Strategies are very scientific and impersonal - the Ivory Tower approach to marketing. It may take a big CPG company two or three years to launch a new product from scratch.  

The reason most CPG companies put so much emphasis on this with their innovation (new products), is because the cost of failure is so great. Several years ago I worked for the largest CPG company in the world. They launched a new product into a very competitive category. To kick off the launch they provided all of us with reams of marketing research, competitive information, retailer category sales data, new item presentations, and samples. Despite the massive effort on all of our parts the product failed to meet the brand’s expectations and was discontinued within five months. I heard estimates that the “experiment” cost the company over $100 million.  This taught me a valuable lesson that I will never forget. It is at the heart of many of my articles.

Natural companies are small and nimble. They are also extremely creative and passionate and willing to try new and different things.  More importantly, they are fully engaged in the consumers who buy their products - in many cases new product concepts come directly from their interactions. This gives them a tremendous competitive advantage.   

Another impressive aspect of the natural channel is the ability to test consumer preference, wants, and needs with actual shoppers, their friends, and their families. Imagine, doing consumer research with actual shoppers in their environment. Imagine getting instant feedback from people who actually buy and use the product more than once. Imagine being able to customize your product right away as you continue to develop it. Imagine how efficient it is to develop a product that consumers are actually searching for.

Expo is where the natural channel showcases it's new product concepts, ideas, and innovation.  It's where we celebrate all that is good in our industry. 

TAGS: News
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