Wayne Morley

Top 10 rules for product development

Wayne Morley (left), ex-technical food developer at Unilever where he worked for 22 years on new flavours and formats and now head of Food Innovation at Leatherhead Food Research, outlines his top 10 rules for product developers to bear in mind when attempting the highly difficult and rarely successful task of taking a food product all the way from idea-to-shelf.

His rules emphasise taste along with the economics of product development and retail realities and the importance of being an ambassador for a product idea in-house.

The first four rules are all concerned with tasting the products; rules 5 to 7 are concerned with how to communicate effectively with colleagues in other functions, especially marketing; and rules 8 to 10 are all concerned with external factors that can affect the success of your product in the market place.

Rule 1 – Always taste your own products
This is an obvious one but how can you expect others to eat your food if you don’t do so yourself? Tasting sessions are an integral part of product development and you should taste and retaste continuously. You can also ask your colleagues to taste and give an opinion. A former colleague of mine was working on a well-known brand of beef stock cubes yet was a vegetarian! So he couldn’t taste the products and had to rely on others.

Rule 2 – Taste the product with the appropriate host food
It is so easy when developing food products to just have a quick taste straight out of the bottle or jar. This of course is not how the consumer will taste the product so it is important to take the time to prepare a host food. For example a well-known chicken casserole sauce is manufactured using acidpasteurisation technology and is therefore acidic when  tasted neat and cold. On cooking, however, the acids are buffered by the proteins in the chicken resulting in a much more neutral tasting sauce. So you need to continue the  development of the sauces based on the results of tasting chicken casseroles. Equally important is to select the correct host food. Pasta sauces are sold around the world but in some markets, such as the UK, the most important application is lasagne rather than pasta. These two host foods are cooked in very different ways so in reality you may need to do both.

Rule 3 – Taste the product neat
Even taking the advice in rule 2 into account, it is also important to taste the product neat. This is because the host food can often hide small differences in product quality which may be more noticeable with the neat product. A good example of this is in the reduction by ‘stealth’ of ingredients such as salt and sugar. A single small reduction may not be noticeable by consumers but may not be appropriate if carried out several times to result in a product quality which is very different to the original. A tasting of the neat product may make the change more noticeable thereby ruling it out.

Rule 4 – Taste the product 3 times
This rule was applied by a former colleague in his dealing with Marketing. It is often the case that a ‘tweak’ to the formulation is requested following a product tasting. However, if you are convinced that the product meets the brief then why not present the same product again at the next tasting? And only make the requested change if the product is rejected 3 times. Of course each time present the product as a new version and perhaps include an obviously unacceptable alternative so that a choice can be made!

Rule 5 – Let the products do the talking
After spending months developing and perfecting your new product comes the most difficult task of all – convincing your senior management colleagues to proceed to launch. And, even after sorting out the supply chain and hitting the right margin, there’s always the chance that someone will taste the product and not like it. On one occasion this happened to me: a Marketing Director tasted a reduced-fat product and decided that it wasn’t as good as the existing one. So I arranged an impromptu blind tasting session with three samples of each product. He got all of them wrong and my launch was saved as he was forced to agree that the reduced-fat product was better. So have faith in your product and don’t be afraid to use it to make your point……

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