Top ten myths in food manufacturing: the second five

Top ten myths in food manufacturing: the second five

Wayne Morley, head of Food Innovation at Leatherhead Food Research in the UK, draws upon his experience of working with large brands and in factories, and takes a look at top myths of manufacturing, exploring the common misapprehensions that surround it. These are the second set of myths.

Myth 6 – Higher cost = higher quality

In many product development exercises there is an understandable reluctance to compromise on the product quality in order to maximise launch volumes and repeat purchase. This may mean that the margin is too low, and one of the first tasks post-launch may be to ‘cost engineer’ or reduce the cost of the raw materials and/or packaging. But, this doesn’t necessarily have to be accompanied by a reduction in quality as seen by the consumer.

A TV advert many years ago claimed that consumers should be “aware of expensive imitations” and a senior marketing manager once told me that the optimum quality for a product is the lowest quality that the consumer will accept, or the lowest cost.

One of my product development projects was to reduce the fat content of a range of products for health reasons. Reducing fat usually means reducing the total raw materials cost, and this was achieved using traditional ingredient approaches. The products were also preferred in consumer testing than the original high fat products, so in this case, lower cost did equal higher quality.

So, the message here is to understand the quality level demanded by the consumer, and target the product design, and cost, accordingly.

Myth 7 – There haven’t been any changes to the recipe or ingredients

This is a common misconception when trying to find out why the quality of a product has failed. In fact, in my ‘Trouble-shooting top tips’ (see, Tip 6 is to find out what’s changed. It is very simple, the product quality has changed for a reason, and it is necessary to find out what has changed it and why, in order to prevent a reoccurrence; therefore, you have to keep looking, and challenging those parameters that you believe to be unimportant.

A recent exercise at Leatherhead concerned a dressing product that was too thin. It wasn’t too difficult to determine that starch breakdown was responsible for the low viscosity, with residual amylase activity the likely culprit. But, it wasn’t clear why viable amylase was present. To cut a long story short, the honey that was used in the product, which was supposedly heat treated, was not heat treated enough, suggesting that a change in honey supplier or processing conditions of the honey had occurred.

Myth 8 – Innovation is just brainstorming and ideas

An innovative brand or company isn’t one that just comes up with great ideas or even great products. The idea is worth little if it cannot be exploited for commercial gain.

Brainstorming, creativity, ideation, or whatever you call it, is undoubtedly important, and is one of the first steps in many innovation processes. The ideas that are generated may relate to new products, product applications, packaging formats, or promotional mechanics, and are all designed to encourage retailers to stock the product and consumers to purchase the product; if the idea does not enhance one or both of these then you may as well stick with the product in its current format.

Innovation starts with an appreciation of strategy and an assessment of the market and consumer trends that are applicable to the product or brand. Getting the product design right will then enable product development to proceed efficiently, followed by implementation in a suitable manufacturing facility.

Then comes the compliance stage, ensuring that the product meets all of the necessary requirements, including shelf-life stability and nutritional composition. The Food Innovation Lifecycle Model incorporates these four stages, and Leatherhead’s Innovation Management training course ( covers the key principles and best practices in this important area.

Myth 9 – The customer and consumer won’t notice

This is a common misunderstanding in cost saving or reformulation activities. It is true that a small fat reduction, for example, in a product with a relatively high fat level may not be judged to significantly affect liking in a consumer test, but you should ignore directional differences at your peril.

Even more dangerous is the view that once achieved, another similar change can be made and then another one and so on. This is because after multiple fat reductions, the resulting product is extremely likely to be very different from the original, and the consumers, especially the loyal ones that know the product best, will notice.

The phenomenon is sometimes called ‘salami slicing’ whereby a small slice of the product quality is removed. It can be an interesting exercise to dig out the old specifications for a product, manufacture an old version in the kitchen or pilot plant, and then compare it to the current version – you may be surprised at the result!

Myth 10 – It’s never been done before

Almost everything in the food industry has been done before, just perhaps not in your product category or market. Your product idea that has emerged from the brainstorming activity may appear to be novel, but most likely the key elements will already have been established previously.

Your innovation may in fact be to combine a number of existing elements into a single product, using a packaging format that is new to your market or segment. It may be that an existing solution has not been developed sufficiently, or that challenges still remain, such that solving these will result in something unique.

The patent literature clearly is a rich source of information in establishing technical solutions that may be of use. The trick is to think outside of the box in terms of the product type or market; for example, the pharmaceutical or cosmetics industries may have solved a similar problem which you can adapt with food-grade ingredients and manufacturing steps, and pet food is more similar to human food than you might imagine!

Source: Leatherhead Food RA:

See the first set of five myths here: Top ten myths in food manufacturing: the first five