2014 R&D Survey: Open to New Ideas

Our annual survey finds a little less truly new product development going on, a longer product development cycle and more use of open innovation.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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Cleaning up your labels

For the first time, we asked the open-ended question, "What is your company doing to make a cleaner label?" The answers run the gamut from "keeping it simple as possible" to obtaining "carbon neutral/Rain Forest Alliance RA certification."

Some are "looking at natural flavors & colors, removing preservatives and additives where possible." Others "continue to reduce sodium, etc. without sacrificing taste." And one is "looking for ingredients with multiple functions under a single ingredient name."

Figure 11 PHO removal Figure 15 Regulations

One respondent is "removing PHOs, reducing artificial colors and flavors, removing HFCS and preservatives." Another will "look into possibilities to remove E-numbers from ingredient list for a particular product; see if it is possible to work without aroma." A handful say they are working on Non-GMO Project certification. Despite the consumer benefits of adding vitamins, minerals and other health-imparting ingredients, one company is "removing enrichment in certain products to make ingredient statement shorter and to make an 'all natural' claim."

One thing that doesn't appear to be that big an issue is the removal of partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats. If the FDA rules they are no longer generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredients, that's only a huge deal for 6.6 percent of you; and something that's already under control for another 21 percent. Another 21 percent say they've already accomplished reformulations. The biggest group, 41 percent, say PHOs don't apply to their products.

Another issue headed for sundown is the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. They were huge when new (in 2011) and they're still having an impact for more than half of you. But with the new guides due out in a year, they're supremely important for only 19 percent and unimportant for 35 percent. We'll see what next year brings.

Nevertheless, some of the ingredient and nutritional recommendations in the four-year-old guidelines still carry weight. Removing sodium remains paramount for 29 percent of you, although that's down 10 points from last year. With the FDA's proposed new nutrition label calling more attention to added sugars, removing them is key for 28 percent. Adding fiber and fruits & vegetables remain the top additions.

Who’s on the team?

Figure 6 RD Team compositionThere is no "I" in team, but there's a lot more than R and D. Questions about what job titles participate in product development and who really calls the shots turned up answers that have remained consistent through the recent years of this survey.

One factor worth mentioning: Our readership is pretty evenly split between larger companies (more than 100 employees at the location to which we mail the magazine) and smaller ones. That diversity is apparent in many of the organizational questions.

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of you have a formal product development team, another 11 say "sort of." (Figure 9). And while the R&D Dept. is the core of that team for most companies (87 percent), it's clear product development is a group effort.

Marketing is the next biggest job title on the product development effort, its 69 percent the job title's best showing since 2011. Manufacturing, still in third place, and the other titles are all within a percentage point or so of previous showings. (Figure 6). Of note is the continued reliance on outside suppliers and consultants.

Figure 9 Formal RD Team Figure 10 Formal Team Meetings

The same goes for who influences annual goal-setting in product development. The R&D Dept. calls the shots for 78 percent with marketing not too far behind (this and some other figures are only in the web version of this story). But top management and mid-level management trumps manufacturing. Among write-ins for "anybody else involved?" quality assurance/quality control got a significant number of votes.

The product development team seems to be meeting more often. Weekly meetings were common for 27 percent of you last year and 21 percent in 2012; now they're weekly for 31 percent. "A couple times a month" also increased a few points; monthly and less than monthly went down. And virtual meetings (8 percent) are on the rise.

Internal research is still the main element of identifying new product ideas (70 percent), but here, too, the open door is apparent. 49 percent of you practice open innovation, and suppliers and external product development companies also contribute significantly. 37 percent rely on focus groups.

Figure 7 Concept to Shelf Figure 14 Key Decisions

So after all the research and meetings and input, how long does it take to get that baby from concept to the grocery store? A little longer than it used to. 12 percentage points moved from the shorter wait times to the "nearly a year" and longer responses.

Another new question, this one suggested by our advisory board, provided mixed results. "Besides federal regulations, are city or state regulations a problem?" Only 15 percent said yes.

Our final question is a catch-all: Is there anything we missed or anything you care to add? A couple of the answers are worth noting. Allergens came up several times; "harmonizing product profiles globally across diverse cultures" was interesting, as was crowd-sourcing.

And maybe the best advice, from a guy at a North Carolina microbrewer: “Focus on core product and values, and don’t get sidetracked.”

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