BALTIMORE — One of the biggest challenges facing the food and beverage industry is identifying which trends in the marketplace have staying power and which are flash-in-the-pan fads, said Eric Pierce, director of strategy for New Hope Natural Media.
“Regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manufacturer, an investor, a supplier, a retailer or distributor, whatever it is that brought you here today, I imagine the common theme is wanting to know where the next big opportunities are and where you should be placing your bet,” Mr. Pierce said during a presentation at Natural Products Expo East, held Sept. 16-19 in Baltimore. “Further compounding this challenge is the rate at which ideas are scaling and the rate at which products are moving from their early stages of introduction up through specialty markets to conventional and eventually mass markets.
“In the past, that evolution per concept may have taken five, six, eight years or more. Today there are a lot of concepts that are born and in the early stages are moving straight to wholesale or national distribution levels.
“The rate of innovation is increasing, so the job of identifying which opportunity is for you and taking advantage of it when the timing is right has gotten a lot harder because that scaling doesn’t take six years anymore. That scaling takes one or two years if you’re on the right idea.”
Trends in the natural and organic marketplace are influencing the overall industry, he said.
|Eric Pierce, director of strategy for New Hope Natural Media|
“Many mainstream companies are beginning to focus on the natural and organic, health and wellness marketplace for inspiration,” Mr. Pierce said. “Many are looking to us for growth and inspiration, fueled by cultural shifts, changing consumer demand and deeper values and connections to consumer health and wellness. They’re seeing that our industry is growing at almost three times the rate as traditional C.P.G.”
Eight factors determine the longevity of a trend, he said. First and foremost, a product or idea must have what he called “market attractiveness.”
“How often are products consumed that are fulfilling this trend, how many target customers are there in the marketplace, and how strong is demand currently?” Mr. Pierce asked. “In order to assess those things, we’re looking at the number of consumption occasions. We’re looking at the incidence of the target audience. We’re looking at sales velocity if it’s a product that’s already on shelves that we can measure in quantitative data… All of this is helping to inform the size of the opportunity in the marketplace.”
The second key indicator is cultural demand for a product or trend.
“Cultural demand is really important because it tells us how well aligned the trend is with other trends in the marketplace,” he said. “Where is the momentum in the marketplace that is going to be helping carry something forward?”
Another factor is consumer attitudes. Product developers must consider purchase intent and future potential of a product and whether the product provides an experiential benefit to the consumer.
“We look at … how much behavior modification is required,” Mr. Pierce said. “In order for this to catch on with consumers… does it fit nicely in with behaviors that already exist in the marketplace?”
A fourth driving force is innovation activity, including the number of the new product launches in the market and the breadth of categories inclusive of the product.
“If you’ve got a fast-follower strategy, this may be a really good indicator,” Mr. Pierce said. “If want to be an industry leader, this may actually work against an opportunity for you. The idea here is to assess how many others are doing something similar related to this idea. Can you look at that as proof of concept that something here is worth investigating?”
Manufacturers must also assess supply chain implications, such as the availability of ingredients, the scalability of materials and the diversification of suppliers.
To a lesser extent, other factors that predict a product’s staying power include how much buzz it generates on social media, whether it is supported by scientific research, and how it is affected by regulatory changes in the market.
Based on these eight factors, Mr. Pierce named two opportunities with long-term potential. One is probiotics.
“We’re beginning to see investments and opportunity developing in the marketplace pushing probiotics past its typical supplement and dairy environment,” Mr. Pierce said. “Probiotic innovation is being driven by four major factors that we see in the marketplace right now: greater understanding of the role of probiotics in general health outside of digestion, increasing understanding of the role of specific strains, new medical treatment opportunities being developed based on the research and knowledge we’re beginning to have about the role our microbiome plays in overall health, and lastly we’re seeing consumer engagement in the emergence of D.I.Y. opportunity.”
A second major opportunity for investment and innovation, Mr. Pierce said, are vegan products.
“Vegan products are beginning to go mainstream,” he said. “The consumption of vegan products is far outstripping the number of vegans in the marketplace. That’s because increasingly the values that vegans stand for represents something more than the typical stereotype of what vegan has meant for consumers.”