Eyes on the prize

eye 1Peter Burgess, head of consumer and sensory science at Campden BRI, looks at what makes a new product succeed or fail, and how better to guarantee success on the shelf.



Innovation is a word that is often over-used in new product development. However, truly innovative, breakthrough consumer products are those that create new markets or redefine existing ones. They meet consumers’ needs head-on and they satisfy their practical and aspirational requirements.

Competition in the global food and drink industry is more intense than ever before. Successful businesses need to innovate and introduce new products into the international marketplace that meet consumers’ increasingly discerning and exacting requirements. In developed markets, the consumer is king. Indeed, the success or failure of a new food or drink product ultimately depends on how the purchaser or final consumer perceives it. However, the product innovation process is challenging. Over 80 per cent of all new product launches fail within the first year (TNS Global), and [i]that’s even if they make it on to the market. Those new products that do get on to supermarket shelves, sometimes only last for a few weeks.

This, according to the Harvard Business Journal, is in part due to the intransigence of consumer shopping habits. It quotes a report which found that families, on average, repeatedly buy the same 150 items, which constitute as much as 85 per cent of their household needs (1)[ii]. This demonstrates how difficult it is to get new products on consumers’ radars.

Consumer input

It is therefore essential to have a thorough, in-depth understanding of target consumers’ responses in detail before embarking on any potential new product innovation programme.

Consumer-led product development needs to be considered from a number of different perspectives. Firstly, it is necessary to understand the characteristics of the intended consumer. For example, are some consumers more receptive to the proposed product than others? What are their particular needs? Are they strongly loyal to an existing brand? Are they ‘early adopters’ ie inclined to trial new products?

Of course, it is critical to understand consumers’ responses to the sensory attributes of the proposed new product itself, such as its appearance, flavour and texture; but additionally, the usage occasion or consumption context also needs to be taken into account. The alignment of the product’s sensory attributes with its intended use, whether that is a product to be consumed while on-the-go or on a special occasion, will have a significant impact on consumers’ acceptability of a new product.

Insights from these perspectives are invaluable in guiding development activities such as: positioning the product to best match consumer expectations; ensuring the product’s formulation is designed to suit most customers’ taste and sensory preferences; and that attributes such as portion size and packaging reflect the intended use occasion.

Failure to research and capture consumer insights before embarking on a costly new product innovation drive is extremely risky. In today’s tough economic environment, food and drink businesses need to minimise that risk by doing their homework and leveraging key consumer insights to create successful new products worthy of their price.

Ways and means

There are a number of ways that consumer insights can be integrated into the early stages of the product innovation process. For example, quantitative studies that test a concept can provide invaluable early sales volume estimates based on identifying segments of the market that are potentially most responsive to the new product in terms of trial and repeat purchase.

Measures such as a concept’s perceived uniqueness, its relevance to the consumer in terms of satisfying a recognised need, and credibility in terms of the extent that consumers believe that the product will really deliver the proposed benefits, can provide strong indicators of a product’s likely success in the market and guide which product prototypes are worth developing and testing further. Price sensitivity measurements can also identify optimal pricing information, along with a price interval range.

Information can be obtained by asking people individually or in group discussions what they think and by observing what they actually do in practice. Campden BRI researchers have recently used qualitative discussion groups involving ‘enabling’ and ‘projective’ techniques to gain a thorough understanding and acceptance of health and nutrition-related information on product labels. Similar groups have also been very valuable in eliciting how elements of product packaging in general were associated with a product’s sensory properties and functions.

Tools of the trade

There is no doubt that gaining valuable consumer insight helps to shape new product development and explicit questioning and observational techniques are invaluable tools of the trade when it comes to this essential information gathering. These techniques can be complemented by more implicit measures, gained through more technological methods such as using advanced eye-tracking solutions to evaluate and measure consumer perception as objectively as possible.

Eye tracking is the computerised monitoring of people’s eye positions while they are engaged in a particular task. It is a very powerful and sophisticated tool that provides direct insight into thought processes and unconscious behaviour, enhancing traditional consumer research measures and helping capture a more complete consumer response to sensory stimuli.

Many thought processes do not reach the level of consciousness necessary for consumers to verbalise them. Eye tracking provides a deeper understanding of how the users interact with a product. The consumer sits at a computer and uses it in the normal way. Meanwhile, low levels of infra-red light are shone on to their face, and a high-resolution digital camera captures that reflected by their eyes.

Analysis software determines where each eye was looking, to evaluate viewer engagement of an object, image, advert, pack or fixture. The system reports the data in a variety of ways – including ‘heat maps’ which highlight the areas that received most attention. The main benefits of using eye movement measures to supplement data collected from more traditional consumer methods such as usability testing and interviews can be summarised as follows:

  • Ability to determine what consumers find important or interesting and what they tend to ignore
  • Assessment of consumers’ decision-making processes
  • Ability to explain inefficient or ineffective product performance
  • Identification of search patterns and strategies
  • Evaluation of how consumers perceive visual designs on packaging and how this relates to  clients’ objectives.

The whole package

In the new product development process, advanced eye-tracking is very useful when it comes to making crucial packaging decisions and developing on-pack communications, helping to link results to other sensory measures such as product linking, acceptability and emotions.

For many products, the packaging is often the primary (if not the only) advertising consumers will ever see. Packaging development needs to clearly focus on consumer insight and sell the benefits that come out of it. Understanding the linkages between product, packaging and context and how this affects consumers’ preferences, choices and consumption can lead to significant improvements in a new product’s competitive positioning.

Early insight

Consumer research is not something that should be done right at the end of the new product development process. Valuable insight from potential customers can and should be used at every stage to help influence product decisions and develop food and drink products that consumers will want to buy and purchase repeatedly.  Today’s successful food and drink brands are those that have engaged consumers in a constructive dialogue and leveraged valuable consumer insights to develop a truly customer focused new product development process that results in great products that meet the needs, wants and desires of its target consumers.

Campden BRI is a world leader in the scientific evaluation of consumer beliefs and understandings – whether real or perceived – and can help food and drink businesses tailor their consumer research appropriately. With pilot scale processing facilities, a dedicated NPD laboratory including state-of-the-art eye-tracking technology, test kitchens and a team of chemists, microbiologists, sensory scientists and food and drink processing experts, Campden BRI has the skills  and facilities to support the development of a wide array of food and drink products from conception to implementation. To find out more, visit: http://www.campdenbri.co.uk/services/sensory-consumer.php


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