Mars: Choose evolution (not revolution) for NPD

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Innovation

Mars: Choose evolution (not revolution) for NPD
Game-changing innovation is not – and should not – be the top priority for every new product development team, especially in the current economic climate, according to the boss of one of the nation’s biggest brands.

Delivering the British Brands Group’s annual lecture in London last night, Mars Chocolate md Fiona Dawson said: “The temptation to radically innovate is huge, but you can risk sucking out your technical resources, your financial resources and your best talent from your base business.”

Meanwhile, commissioning costly processing equipment that could not be used for other products in the event that a new product failed was also incredibly risky, she added.

“I firmly believe that innovation should be built around evolution not revolution and based on a deep understanding of your core brand. That’s the way to consistently grow your business."

The economic climate had also made shoppers more risk averse, she claimed: “The recessionary landscape has changed the fast moving consumer goods industry’s (fmcg’s) view of innovation. We also know from Kantar Worldpanel data that only five out of 100 new products have a market share of more than 1% at the end of year one.

“Now consumers are less likely to try new things, and building a whole new line with new technology and dedicated resources – we’re talking about millions of pounds – that’s risky, especially if you can’t use those assets for something else.”

Doing nothing is not an option

But doing nothing was not an option, she stressed. “The real tragedy would be if we stopped innovating at all. We do it because innovation is a solution to over-reliance on promotions, and it also creates value in a recessionary environment.”

Many of the most successful innovations in fmcg had been in the packaging arena, she said, citing Heinz’s ‘upside down’ squeezy sauce bottles.

Mars had in turn led the field in chocolate confectionery packaging innovation, she claimed: ”We’ve led the industry when it comes to bags of chocolate. The biggest innovation was the stand-up resealable pouch; it completely revolutionised the category.”

She declined to give FoodManufacture.co.uk details on how Mars is spending the £20m it is investing in its Slough factory over the next two years, but said it would be on a combination of upgrading existing equipment to increase efficiency, increasing production capacity for Galaxy and on an undisclosed “new innovation”.

Reformulation work

Responding to the NICE report published earlier this week urging the industry to speed up saturated fat and salt reduction initiatives, Dawson claimed that the Mars Bar now had the “lowest level of fat per 100g and per product of any of its competitive set in the top 25”.

She added: “Mars Bars are often used as an icon of villainhood in the UK health debate, but actually, the majority of people only eat one once in a while.”

Having been "cast as the villains"​ when the healthy eating/reformulation debate began in earnest, Mars and other food manufacturers were now taking a “much more proactive stance”, ​she claimed.

Related topics: NPD, Confectionery

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