Speaking at this year’s Speciality & Fine Food Fair at the Kensington Olympia, Amy Wilkinson – food industry coach and podcast co-host – highlighted the confusion surrounding insights and what they actually are on her panel, ‘Exploring the Power of Insights for NPD’.
“You can get mixed up between what’s data and what’s insight,” she explained. “A lot of big businesses buy a lot of data but that’s not insight in itself. It’s just a load of numbers or information and it doesn’t actually tell you something.”
Fellow panellist Mark Whalley, founder of Differential Insight, described insights as a breakthrough observation that leads you towards better decisions. Another way of thinking of it is when something is simultaneously obvious but at the same time you think ‘I would never have thought of that’.
The starting point of product development
“Insight is the starting point from which the decisions can be made, it’s really important it comes at the beginning of the strategic side of NPD or overall business strategy,” said Whalley.
“I think that too many times insight is interpreted as validation or ‘checking’ at the end of the process – you might develop a product, put it in packaging and at that point you ask, ‘can someone experienced in insight come tell me if this product is going to work or not?’
“By that point you’ve gone through so many processes, made so many decisions, any one of them could have been completely misdirected. I think that’s why insights are so important and, more so than they are at the moment, they need to come upstream from the preliminary strategic side of decision making.”
Commenting on the best source of food and drink insights, Whalley immediately pointed to founders – it’s from their personal observations and revelations that the best new ideas are discovered. The difficulty comes from trying to develop the second product once the initial piece of insight has been exhausted.
‘The difficult second album’
“You’re in that difficult second album territory and that’s the point at which you want to focus on what’s important, what insight is driving you,” he added. “It’s that second product or brand extension where you start making stranger decisions because all of a sudden, you’re not going through that same insightful process.”
Lucy Wager of consultancy Out to Launch championed challenger brands in this exact situation. True to their name, they are challenging the bigger food and drink businesses thanks to their ability to quickly react to new insights in a way their larger rivals can’t.
“Bigger businesses will be scratching around trying to justify the NPD they’ve come up with rather than interpreting the data and understanding the insight is from the research they have access to,” said Wager.
However, Wager bemoaned the lack of post launch reviews being conducted by food and drink companies. It’s during this period that businesses can easily gain insight, but is too often being overlooked.
‘A false economy’
Whalley added: “It’s such a false economy as well – you spend 18 months developing product and spending however many thousands of pounds, then putting out to field where you’ll start to get genuine feedback from people and it’ll end up operating on a sink or swim model.
“It doesn’t make any sense. That’s your opportunity to refine and go again and what some businesses seem say is, ‘if it doesn’t work in that first six to 12 weeks, that can’t have been a very good idea. What’s the next idea?’ It’s such a waste – there are no better insights than people’s actual shopping behaviours.”
Wager also said that the post launch review is important for protecting NPD reputation. If the product hasn’t worked commercially, there might have been a good reason why that had nothing to do with the development of the product.
“We shouldn’t feel that that burden is on us from an NPD perspective,” she concluded.