Urban Fresh Foods squares off against COVID-19 challenges

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Urban Fresh Food's Jo Agnew talks NPD and the impact of COVID-19
Urban Fresh Food's Jo Agnew talks NPD and the impact of COVID-19

Related tags plant-based Ambient

Overhauling NPD taste testing in response to COVID-19 and harnessing the potential of online have been two big challenges for healthy snack maker Urban Fresh Foods since the pandemic struck.

Jo Agnew, marketing director at Urban Fruits and Bear brand owner told Food Manufacture ​in this exclusive podcast that its NPD sampling process had been forced to change in response to the crisis.

“The climate of the last 12–­18 months has definitely been a challenge that brought different timings and impacts to our project,”​ she explained.

Normally with the team in the office things are a lot quicker, so when we get samples in from suppliers, we can taste them all together and discuss that feedback first-hand.

“The biggest challenge for our innovation over the past 12 months has been more around time and logistics and making sure those samples come in, then immediately go out to all the panels that are tasting them. We’ve found different ways of running those sessions.”

Like many within the food and drink industry, Urban Fresh turned to video conferencing to keep the business running. The NPD process was no exception, with the outcome ending up more beneficial than expected.

No bias

“People can review the product by themselves and not have that bias of opinion when you’re all together,”​ Agnew added. “With that dynamic, we’ve really got the best possible product.”

Outside of the logistical challenges caused by the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges across the food and drink industry is the change in shopper behaviours.

With people less likely to make regular, smaller visits to retailers in favour of less frequent, bigger shops, the food-to-go market has been in decline.

“In the last 15 months we’ve seen an impact on our out-of-home business – with everything closing down we saw an impact on those formats, particularly the single serve – but actually we’ve seen a phenomenal uptake in our take-home occasions.

“Our take-home packs are up 32% year-on-year and what we’ve seen is a real shift in shopper behaviour and it’s something that’s really benefited our brand.”

The business has also been boosted by an uptick in web sales, thanks to lockdowns. Agnew said Urban was committed to bricks and mortar retail, but noted the opportunities for the brand online.

New shoppers

“What we’re seeing is it’s ​[online] growing as a result of the recruitment of new shoppers, shoppers that have never shopped online before that have almost been forced to do so. We don’t expect that to change.

“A benefit we’ve seen from that is our repeat rates have been really high, so I know once I get that shopper into the brand, they come back time and time again.

“Once our product is in the shopping basket, a lot of online consumer behaviour reverts to the favourites list. I’m confident once that product is in that list, it gets shopped again and again and we know that online shoppers are more valuable because of that purchase decision hierarchy and the way that they shop.

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