Raphaëlle is the Founder and Director of inewtrition, with over 25 years of food innovation experience, as a food product developer, working internationally for start-ups and multinationals in converging products for consumer health. Here she talks about the factors that contribute to successful product innovation in the food and beverage industry and how an industry expert can help facilitate the commercialization of science and technology.
What would you say are the important factors to consider when developing new products or adapting existing ones to expand to new markets?
A lot of innovation comes from people who don’t have a background in the food industry. They usually have extremely strong potential in the food industry. But the industry is quite complex regarding the value chain, supply chain, and regulations. So, as good as they are in their new innovation approach, they will eventually hit a roadblock. Because they can’t commercialize and adjust their science to fit the industry, both B2C and B2B. That is why they need an experienced industry expert to help them enable that product. And to ensure that it can fit into the overall market, the competitive landscape, and the whole supply chain operations.
That’s where I come in. I can help them develop realistic timeframes and roadmaps to facilitate the commercialization of science and technology.
But there are so many different aspects that need to be looked at. For example, how they secure the commercial opportunity and prevent other competitors from entering this category. Then there is the financial aspect of innovation. Since it can take years to get a return on investment, you must have a clear cost analysis, risk management, mitigations, and contingency plans.
At the end of the day, it is all about bringing a high-level overview of the project at the strategic level and having guidance in every activity’s granularity. In other words, it is the balance between fitting into the bigger picture and being able to drill into the detail and the granularity that is required to support the team.
What are your thoughts on Open innovation in today’s FNB industry?
The food industry can sometimes be quite introverted and outdated in its mindset toward innovation. It lacks trust and transparency.
By nature, open innovation is when the industry starts breaking down those walls and barriers and starts engaging with the outside world. The concept of innovation is to really engage with the external world. To look for synergies, collaborations and to accelerate or facilitate innovations. Instead of closing our minds, let’s open them.
And see whether innovation could come from adjacent sectors such as biotechnology, cosmetics, etc. We see a lot of overlap nowadays between wellness, food pharma, and cosmetics. We can also engage with universities or research organizations. The key here is to build relationships with external partners because they may have a new production line, process, technology, or packaging line that fits the overall concept of your product or service. So instead of locking ourselves in, let’s open and see what’s happening around us.
Which country do you think this open innovation practice will be applied or employed most?
Having worked globally, I can see how different parts of the world leverage innovation differently. Take the U.S., for example, they are known to be very advanced in technology. Especially biotechnology. Regarding regulation, the FDA certainly has some excellent guidelines and frameworks regarding how the food industry can operate.
In India, people are extremely solid in tech and data intelligence. Those aspects can be applied to the product development process to map out the different parameters and criteria relevant to the consumer. They also have several different traditional diets and medicine that can be an extremely powerful addon to innovation. Talking about Asia, we can see a very strong culture around alternative protein sources like plant-based protein. Then we have Australia, where there is a focus on health and wellness. They are extremely advanced in dietary supplements and nutraceuticals.
Overall, you can see really how open innovation can be extremely useful in accelerating innovation by tapping here and there and everywhere. It also allows us to be more resilient and more sustainable in our approach to developing new products or services.
To what extent should a product formula or technology be altered or adjusted to adapt to the new market, and how. So how can that company develop its product without losing its core value?
What is important to highlight around this is design thinking. I do innovation by working on prototyping and minimum variable product. You need to align that new product or service and technology with commercialization in terms of scale and consumer insights. Then from that, you run a lot of testing on the shelf life, functionality, and nutrition. But as importantly, you need to engage with the consumer very early. You take a pool of consumers from different demographics and look at their feedback and responses. So, you can see their expectations and requirements, for example, what they are interested in and the right pricing strategy.
Then, you have to refine and fine-tune the offering for each market. So let’s say you have an initial MVP, but there might be some tweaks that you might need to make to align with specific market requirements.
You really need to have this kind of overall approach in terms of design thinking. Where we engage with the consumer early on to get their feedback. And as we refine the product, we also consider those nuances from different markets. So that we are completely aligned with their expectation. So, to answer your question, in terms of iteration and changes, they are included throughout the process early on at the macro level. But after the product is launched, we talk about life cycle management, reformulation, and renovation, which are more at the micro level.
What do you have to say about the future market landscape(e.g., growth, trends) of the European F&B industry? Where would it be in the next five years?
I would say polarization and fragmentation of the food industry.
On one side, we are getting into a crisis where consumers seek more value. Commodity products nowadays must embrace those insights and trends, such as low-fat, low-sugar nutritional value, and, of course, at a low cost, which can exert pressure on manufacturers and suppliers.
On the other side, we are looking at people willing to pay a premium for highly functional foods that will be used for preventative health. Since consumers now have a real sense of how their diet will impact them in the long term, we are entering that kind of overlap between food pharma and wellness.
And then what we see is a lot of fragmentation through life stages. We have children, then toddlers, students, and seniors. We have people who are very much into an active lifestyle and sports; some are not. This fragmentation through life stages will create very dynamic opportunities for innovation. I can see personalized nutrition will become well-established, for instance.
Also, consumers have needs they want to address and expect their food or dietary supplements to be tailored to their specific needs. It can be based on age, lifestyle, or diet.
If you need help taking your product innovation project to the next level, book a consultation with Raphaëlle today.