iNewtrition – Raphaelle O'Connor

Project Manager and new product development portfolio pipeline

What a Good Project Manager Will Do for your Food Business?

What do you think the common denominator is between the most successful projects in the food industry? There are a lot of potential responses to this, but for me, the common denominator is a good Project Manager for their food business.

When referring to the Food & Beverage or Health & Wellness industries, in particular; finding a collaborative advantage with a Project Manager who has excellent business acumen, knowledge of digital tools for innovation, and expertise in these niche industries has the potential to strongly differentiate your brand in those markets as your business grows.

Have you ever worked in a company where the product or service may have been great but noticed that they are somewhat unorganised and it is causing them to not grow as fast as they could be? That is likely because the business lacks the basic structure and strategy required for moving food innovation or product development projects forward in a fast and efficient way.

What a project manager will bring

Build a highly effective team

Now, of course, this is something that your team can figure out along the way, but it will take a lot more of your time and effort to achieve than when working with someone who has experience in a Project Management role, and knows what pitfalls and opportunities to look out for along the way. The latter will enable you to build a highly effective team, in an in-person or virtual environment, which will strengthen the company’s value proposition.

Work within your resources and budget

Getting the basics right with regards to the business or project strategy, structure, management, and operations, is absolutely essential to its overall success and can make a huge difference to your speed and scale of growth. A good project manager should be able to work within your resources and budget to save you time and money in the long run, a skill which is of particular importance in today’s world than ever before.

Whether you are starting a new business, or looking to scale an existing one, examining the systems and processes you have in place can often make or break your success in a project.

The image below illustrates a high-level overview of a project management system example for a new product development project. While these are just a few of the elements that a project manager can oversee, the reality can often be much more complex, so having one person take the lead can allow you to achieve your definition of success faster and more seamlessly.

Stage Gate Project Management Process iNewtrition, Good Project Manager

Help you to make better decisions

The key is in remembering that projects are most successful when one person is in charge. When there is no clear leader, decisions will be discussed, but not made, and ideas will be shared, but not acted upon. You need an individual who can oversee tasks and help keep the focus so better decisions are made, even in a virtual or remote setting.

Highlight risks early

When I work with brands in a Project Management role, I help them take care of everything from coordinating, planning, and leading key project meetings, ensuring adherence to timelines and highlighting risks and/or risk mitigation plans to multiple project stakeholders, all while ensuring the team is appropriately resourced to support project success during pre- and post-launch activities.

I have also overseen manufacturing handovers and vetting processes, in addition to implementing systems for quality assurance, product liability insurance, and third-party audits. Additionally, I have reviewed deadlines and timelines on an ongoing basis, flagging key issues/delays, and working with those accountable to ensure zero slippage on task achievement.

Offer suggestions and seek out new opportunities

All of the above has been based on not only what the client has requested, but also my (client-approved) suggestions on what tasks I think will improve the process or speed up time-to-market. You will be able to spot a good project manager as someone who can not only listen to what you are currently experiencing and where you want to be, but who will also offer suggestions and ideas, and seek out new opportunities to help you reach your goals. They should be actively searching for and identifying exactly where the pitfalls and challenges are in your business and help you turn them into opportunities, instead of merely ticking off the boxes you asked for in the beginning.

Key skills of a project manager

Below are some more examples of the skills and experience that a good project manager can bring to the table to help you accomplish your objectives within your desired timeframe and budget:

  • Exhibit strong organisational, written, and verbal communication skills.
  • Ability to work cross-culturally and manage multiple priorities at once.
  • Establish critical milestones for food product development, plant trials, certification submission, packaging, and full-scale production.
  • Coordination of teams and third parties/vendors for the flawless execution of projects and zero slippage on deadlines.
  • Develop a detailed project plan using stage-gate process and agile methodology to track progress.
  • Project status reporting for different audiences.
  • Point of contact for all project needs.
  • Perform risk analysis and scenario planning to plan for contingency and mitigation.
  • Establish the appropriate regulatory/compliance requirements to better understand the scalability and economic viability of the project.
  • Create and maintain comprehensive project documentation during new product development.

Finally, many projects initiated in 2020 and 2021 have had to adjust to new virtual ways of working when it comes to developing new products or bringing a product to market. A sign of a good project manager is one that will be able to adapt to these new ways of working and help you find solutions that work virtually and remotely.

With my clients from the past year, we were able to successfully carry everything out remotely through video sessions, and the ability to continue to work together on projects throughout lockdown enabled those brands to get an important head start in extremely competitive categories.

What does a food product developer do?

A food product developer works closely with ingredients suppliers and manufacturers to find best solutions for each product category and market. They are very familiar with emerging trends and consumer insights. They carry out a lot of market research to refine positioning within the competitive landscape and align with manufacturers expectations and requirements. Finally, he or she will lead multi-disciplinary teams (Regulatory, Quality, Supply Chain, Procurement, Operations, Sales and Marketing) and work on global projects. They are very familiar with the key players and they key areas of focus to become strategic partners and solution providers to multinationals, SME’s and start-up’s. In addition, a food product developer attends conferences and webinars to keep abreast of the latest development in the industry (food, dietary supplements, health & wellness).

Innovation by design

As competition and complexity in the food industry increases, using effective “Innovation by Design” methodology with an experienced food product developer is vital to build a resilient team and upscale your company in many ways:

  • Understanding what is important for your consumer – nutrition/aging/low carb/keto/low salt/low sugar/nutraceuticals/self-care/medical/environmental/sustainability issues – these are all issues that the consumer cares about.
  • Building the nutritional profile and health benefits of converging products are important to consumers, expectations around packaging functionality, colour, texture, mouthfeel, swallowing etc. should never be overlooked and must be embedded at the outset of the innovation cycle.
  • Taking on the challenge of developing products for new categories and opportunities, such as plant-based, VMS/ dietary supplements, OTC, nutricosmetics, functional foods and the pharmaceutical industry, the consumer must never be forgotten. Make your product development consumer centric and leverage on their experience, as well as their “insperience”.
  • Stay at the cutting edge of NPD, develop successful products and capture those elusive gaps in the market. Give consumers what they want, give them what they need and even give them what they don’t even realise what they want or need.
  • Add business value by focusing on strategic questions:
    1. How can you develop products that support your core values?
    2. How can you grow your product range to attract and excite new audiences?
    3. How can you strengthen your brand through a deeper connection with consumers?
    4. How can you engage with the consumer to help you to produce products that are outstanding, superb, distinct, and have exceptional quality and delights consumers?

What else can a project manager help with?

At the very least, making sure that the product tastes and looks good, combined with understanding consumers’ reactions to the sensory aspects of the product can only help to increase the likelihood of repeat purchase and a successful product that is brand orientated. The sensory properties of your products must be understood by your team and must be liked and preferred by consumers for loyalty and ultimately to gain market success.

Speed to launching on the market is one of the primary considerations of product developers. For this reason, all NPD activities should be timed and tracked, but without cutting corners and rushing decisions. Developing products is easy, developing products and services that appeal to sufficient numbers of consumers is less so and developing sustainable brands that achieve commercial success is very difficult. For this, Project management is an important aspect of the role and responsibilities of a food product developer to launch new products and it includes pre- and post-launch activities. From ideation through business feasibility, selection and development of best leads, scaling-up and launch, the team chases pre-defined deliverables per phase, with a clear work breakdown structure with clear deliverables and timelines.

Financial, technical, qualitative, regulatory and sustainable specifications are important in the whole project’s journey, and prototypes at different scales showcase the results achieved.

For innovation, integral project management helps to keep focus on the value of a proposal from “day one” and helps to keep stakeholders on board during the whole project life. Several stage-gates are part of the project’s life, requiring specific deliverables per gate transfer.

Defined governance assures representation in gate transfers for transparent and fact-based decisions. In each phase, strengths and weaknesses are assessed, risks are anticipated with mitigations and contingency plans in place, and an early warning system to signal upcoming issues.

Summary

We know that product development can be a slow and tedious journey that offers no promise of a successful end and anything you can do to stay on the right track at the tactical and strategic levels are important steps towards success and this is why we are offering a very integrated and holistic approach from a food product development perspective with many years of experience in this industry and adjacent sectors.

If you would like to learn more about sourcing a strong Project Manager for your current or future projects, send an email to me at [email protected] and we can discuss in more detail how to help you achieve your goals.

– Raphaelle, Founder of iNewtrition

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iNewtrition is an Innovation as a Service (IaaS) agency for the functional food & beverage, and health & wellness industries. We provide agile customer solutions, end-to-end support, or can simply help you overcome specific bottlenecks to fast track innovation and product development. The services and expertise we offer are on-demand and available to you instantly via our online booking platform. Our skills combined cover every step of your innovation journey, from feasibility study, product design or development, to post-launch scale-up. Contact Raphaelle at [email protected] to start your journey.

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INNOVATION TRENDS 2023

Pathways to success in the functional food and beverage industry