Are food giants squeezing innovation by acquiring start-ups as soon as their products become remotely popular? That was one of the key questions posed at an expert panel discussion on new product development at the Nutracon conference in Anaheim in March.
A consensus emerged among both the panellists and audience members that big companies are more interested in acquiring companies than conducting their own R&D work. At least one small operator voiced an opinion that with the Pepsi's and Nestlé's of the world quickly acquiring any new company making a profit, there were diminishing openings for new and novel products to develop independent market share.
Panel chair Jim Tonkin, president of Arizona-based beverage product development agency, Tonkin Consulting, noted that while large corporations have neither the patience nor innovative thinking required to launch unique products, "what they do have is money and distribution."
"Know your market, your competition and your competitor attributes," suggested Utah-based marketing guru Jeff Hilton, head of IMG Branding."There are 79 million baby boomers who have the intent and money to try to increase their longevity," said Steve Rosskam, executive vice president of Pennsylvanian flavour specialists, David Michael and Company. "There is a need for functionals."
Rosskam said strong opportunities existed in probiotics, fruit ingredients, lactose-intolerance, as well as gluten-free, allergen-free and low-glycaemic food offerings, as well as glucosamine/chondroitin, lycopene, guava and antioxidants.
With trendy ingredients the age-old maxim of foods and beverages remain. "Even if consumers don't know what antioxidants are, they know they want them," Rosskam said. "Ultimately, though, you can have a great regulatory review, a great structure, great function, great packaging, great marketing and advertising, but unless you have great flavour you don't have much."