Special Report: 2008 R&D Survey

Our annual survey finds R&D adapting to tighter economic times.

By David Feder, Contributing Editor

2 of 2 1 | 2 > View on one page

Let ‘er rip

With costs being such a trenchant concern in the new R&D paradigm, the decision-making procedure must move like clockwork. After all, whether creating a new product from the drawing board or reformulating an existing one, each aspect can make the difference between spending or saving thousands of dollars.

The key questions asked before the starting gate even opens include “Does it fit our brand?” “Does it fit our marketing strategy?” “Can we make money on it?” “Can we make it?” Without the right input, from the right people, a product or reformulation can be stymied before it starts.

Last year, processors’ responses to who answers these questions held a few surprises. The responsibility for “Does it fit our brand?” was equally shared between CEOs/CFOs/presidents and Marketing & Sales. This year, Marketing & Sales actually surpassed the CEO/CFO/president suite by two percentage points, 67 to 65.


Do you read me?
Where do processors get the crucial info they need for their R&D work? Here’s the breakdown:
Internal research/Focus groups
Trade journals
Trade associations
External Research Organizations
Patent information
Government agencies
Great sources of information all, but a number of respondents reminded us by “write-in vote” that one of the best sources of information is their customers. We will be sure to include that option in next year’s survey.

A swing of the pendulum brought Marketing & Sales a hefty “return” to responsibility for deciding “Does it fit our marketing strategy?” Last year saw Marketing ahead of General Management by just one-third at 37 vs. 26 percent. This year, although we analyzed responses differently, the resulting 83 percent was much higher than General Management’s 56 percent.

The answer to “Can we make money on it?” was shared more or less evenly across the CEO/CFO/president, General Management, Marketing & Sales and Purchasing titles. And whether or not whatever it is can be made is answered predominantly by Manufacturing, with 89 percent choosing that title as the primary voice, with R&D a hot second at 81 percent. Last year, it was the suppliers who were the second string.

All that research and development legwork is wheel-spinning without someone dropping the flag. In last year’s survey, we weighted the importance of the final decision-making process across a spectrum from “very important” to not important for each title. Reducing it to a simple “does/doesn’t” (decide) response gave us a clearer picture of just who approves a project.

Surprisingly, the “go for it” decision falls to General Management (61%) more than the top dogs (CEO/CFO/President) (51 percent), with Marketing in a close third at 48 percent. R&D (40 percent) manages to beat only Manufacturing (14 percent) on this key decision-making power.

Team players

One of the aspects of R&D we noticed emerging over recent years as a key paradigm is that of the cross-functional team. When we asked last year about the benefits and hindrances to the team approach, we found them split two to one over whether cross-functional teams are successful with new products when there’s a common incentive plan. That is, two-thirds agreed and one-third disagreed. This year, the cross-functional team snagged an overwhelming endorsement at 80 percent.

So what changed? Let’s look at what our survey participants considered as benefits of the cross-functional approach. “The cross-functional team has a different set of eyes and mind-set, which contribute to a wider window in ideation processes,” is how one processor put it. “Team atmosphere allows for brainstorming, throwing ideas out in the open and allowing yourself and other to work off new ideas given by others,” a spice-blend manufacturer explained.

More comprehensively, cross-functional teams permit pre-emptive approaches to potential problems. “Projected weaknesses throughout the product development processes are revealed earlier and solutions are presented earlier to avoid or minimize future problems,” is how a Parañaque City, Philippines processor of health and wellness, power and energy products phrases it. (He reads our digital edition – do you?)

Other survey participants provided such descriptions of the cross-functional team’s benefits as, “All aspects of the product concept are kept in focus and all the expertise needed is easily available;”

“Everyone’s input is important — people have more buy-in to the project from the start and are more invested in seeing it succeed,” said one processor. Another noted, “Different viewpoints, better big picture, better discipline in developing what fits in with company strategies, more buy-in at launch of new products.”

As far as drawbacks to the cross-functional process, most of the comments ran to the typical: ego-driven or subjective components slowing down the process or power-protective behavior stalling progress. But one respondent focused on hindrances brought about by size. “Teams can become too big to be functional, flexible and efficient,” she points out. “Sometimes the teams spend more time working through the process of working together versus working on the project and problems at hand.”




This year’s survey results are based on 217 responses. We sent survey links to Food Processing readers who cover both administrative and R&D titles. The respondents included vice presidents of research and/or R&D, research directors, directors of quality control/assurance, marketing directors and management. Some of the responses included verbatim comments, plus personal interviews were conducted with those who provided contact information. In all cases where individuals were quoted by name, permission was secured. As with all Food Processing surveys, personal information is kept strictly confidential and is used only for research purposes.

2 of 2 1 | 2 > View on one page
Show Comments
Hide Comments

Join the discussion

We welcome your thoughtful comments.
All comments will display your user name.

Want to participate in the discussion?

Register for free

Log in for complete access.


No one has commented on this page yet.

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments