Greek continued to be the word in 2013, and this trend shows no signs of abating in 2014, according to the annual New Product Pacesetters report from Chicago-based IRI, formerly Information Resources Inc. Three of the top 10 food items for 2013 are Greek yogurt, as are two of the Rising Stars for this year. It’s no wonder, as Greek yogurt speaks to the three benefits today’s consumers seek out in food and beverage products: nutrition, indulgence and excitement.
The September 2013 edition of IRI’s Times & Trends provides deep insights into the way consumers are thinking about, buying and consuming food & beverage products today. Factors impacting these decisions include the blurring of eating occasions and the country’s challenging economy, which have combined to profoundly impact the food & beverage competitive landscape.
“What hasn’t been changed by these forces is consumers’ appetite for nutrition, indulgence and excitement,” says Larry Levin, IRI's executive vice president and practice leader. “These benefits are the trifecta of new product trial, particularly among early adopters of new food and beverage products.”
They are also the basis of those products identified as IRI’s 2013 New Product Pacesetters. Making the list is no easy feat, as the competition is fierce. With new products being the catalysts for the success of consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, marketers invest sizable sums of money, time and enthusiasm into innovation, development and marketing in order to get consumers to try the product, and then buy it again and again.
In 2012-2013, the era when these 2013 Pacesetters would have entered the marketplace, 190,000 new UPCs hit retail shelves across the multi-outlet geography, which includes traditional grocery, drug and mass market retailers, as well as sales from dollar and club channels, Walmart and military commissaries. That 190,000 accounted for an estimated 15 percent of total moving UPCs and represents some 9,500 new brand launches, according to IRI.
“Some of these innovations accumulated sizable year-one sales, while others failed to live up to expectations,” says Levin. (See “Criteria” sidebar for definition on year-one sales.) “The dollars, though, are just the tip of the iceberg. New products bring excitement, buzz and competitive advantage. They establish and protect category leadership. They break into entirely new categories. In short, they are game-changers for CPG companies and life-changers for consumers.”
The lessons learned from IRI’s 2013 New Product Pacesetters are profuse, but they boil down to a single critical principle: Establishing and following a disciplined new product innovation process will breed successful new products and mitigate costly mistakes. This process involves three iterative steps, according to Levin.
First, a company must understand the deep context of consumer attitudes, usage and shopping habits. It’s all about the consumer, not the manufacturer. Second, the manufacturer must develop a business plan to meet these consumer needs in ways that are incremental, profitable and sustainable. Finally, the marketer must make every effort to make sure the consumer knows that he or she needs this product. The marketer must fundamentally change the consumer’s shopping behavior in a long-lasting way.
This year’s top-10 food items hit the market at a very challenging time in CPG history. “Conservative behaviors still have a stronghold on the industry,” says Susan Viamari, IRI's editor for thought leadership. “But the upside of conservation is the critical role that packaged goods play in helping consumers live well for less.”
In 2013, health drove sales while convenience remained critical. “Innovation in 2013 is all about healthier-for-you products,” says Viamari. “Healthy is truly everywhere. From food and beverages to hair care, skin care and even pet food and cleaning products, consumers not only want to look and feel their best, but they want improved wellness to extend to their homes and pets, too.”
In addition to the top 10, which forms the "Pacesetters," IRI tracks the top 100 food & beverage introductions. Their average year-one dollar sales were $35 million. Of that 100, 73 offered a healthier-for-you benefit. Overall, the most prevalent “add” in 2013’s Pacesetters brands was fiber and whole grains, which was found in 42 percent of the new launches.
In addition, the report underscores that dieting has evolved into “nutritional management.” Consumers are looking for products that remove or limit less desirable attributes, so products offering lower calories, less sugar and fewer ingredients are hitting just the right note.
Among the top 10, seven launches had a healthier-for-you approach. Dannon, for the second straight year, owns the top spot. This year’s leader, Dannon Light & Fit Greek, sold $144.9 million in first-year sales. The line boasts more than 10 flavor options that play into consumers’ passion for healthy convenience. The No. 1 product in last year's report (based on 2012 sales) was Dannon Oikos.