By Sharon OmahenUniversity of GeorgiaGreen and purple ketchup, mayonnaise from a squeezable bottle,soup you can eat while driving your car. New food products likethese aren’t just flights of fancy.”Food product development is critical to the survival and growth of the companies within our vast and vigorously competitive, $800billion American food industry,” said Aaron Brody. “Probably aquarter of a million different food products are available, with15,000 to 20,000 or so new items introduced annually into thecrowded mix to try to satisfy consumer desires.”Brody is an adjunct food science and technology professor withthe University of Georgia College of Agricultural andEnvironmental Sciences. He shared his knowledge of productdevelopment and packaging with food industry managers during aone-day short course June 24.The course was organized by the Food Product Innovation andCommercialization Program, formed by UGA researchers.New product development changing”In the past, and to a degree, even today, to develop new foodproducts, we went to the kitchen or laboratory or pilot plant andwhipped up a recipe, which was sent to marketing to sell,” Brodysaid. “Or we assembled a group of creative people to brainstormideas that were sent to the lab. Or we waited for farmers to growa new crop.”Today’s food industry leaders have to know the consumers’ wants,create the right packaging and generate a profit, he said.John Lord, a food product development and marketing researcherfrom St. Joseph’s University and member of the FOODPI&C program,said the high number of new products announced each year isactually much smaller than it seems.”There may be 20,000 new UPC codes … each year, but a very,very small number of these are really new to the world,” he said.”Many are just new adaptations of existing products or temporaryor seasonal products like Oreos with a different color icing.”Few new products really newOf each year’s new products, Lord said, only one-third will beconsidered successful in two years.”This is called ‘product churn,'” he said. “The industry puts alot of products out there and waits to see which ones stick.”Why do so many fail? What drives shoppers to buy new foods?”Consumers want products that taste good, are good for them andare convenient,” Lord said. “Thanks to the food industry, we nowhave cereal bars with milk in them so we can now eat theequivalent of a bowl of cereal while driving a car.”Successful new foods are being developed, too, to reduce the timewe spend cooking. “Look at bowl meals,” he said. “We can now heatit up, eat it and throw away the dishes. If you have a plasticspoon handy, there are no dishes to wash.”Indulgent products are another trend on the rise. “Ben andJerry’s ice cream and Hershey’s upscale chocolate products arebeing sold so we can reward ourselves for living stressfullives,” he said.Some products before their timeLord said some new products are introduced before their time.Cereal with freeze-dried fruit, for example.”In 1965, the technology wasn’t good enough,” he said. “By thetime the fruit was ready to eat, the cereal was too soggy.Thirty-seven years later these cereals taste great and the fruitattracts consumers because it adds a health notion.”Mark Thomas, a research chef with MDT, Ltd., and a FOODPI&Cmember, was a member of the team that made the hugely successfuldecision to add baby-back ribs to the Chili’s restaurant menu.”If you can’t get it to the consumer, it’s not a new product,”Thomas said. “To be successful, you have to be sure consumerneeds are met during the entire development process.”Thomas compared new foods to a human life.”You have to be willing to support the baby from birth toadolescence and on to maturity,” he said. “And if it dies, youperform an autopsy, evaluate what went right and what went wrongand what you could have done better. And you get ready for thenext baby.”More than 30 food industry representatives attended the UGA newfood products development seminar.
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