Editorial: Food marketers need new recipe

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Memo to the food industry: Quit whining about low growth. You have only yourself to blame.

Corporate chieftains need only leave their ivory towers and actually stroll down a supermarket aisle to get to the root of the problem: "New" products are actually varied sizes, versions or colors of the base brand; flavors that break no new ground and shelf after shelf piled high with me-too products tapping trends that have come and gone.

Where is the innovation? Where is the courage, creativity and entrepreneurship in the food industry today?

It's buried under fears of not making that elusive $100 million new-product benchmark. It's subsumed by ever-more-demanding investors who will wait only six months for a new product to resonate rather than the two to three years they once did. And it's obscured by the sobering fact that 90% of new products fail.

But this shift, from "innovation to incrementalism," as one consultant calls it, is also the reason only 1% of new products hit it big. It's short-sighted and dangerous in the long-term.

Rather than chasing after fleeting trends, smart marketers must have the guts to invest in research aimed at identifying the next big thing. They also must be willing to pay well for creative minds and skilled R&D executives who can bring new business-building ideas to fruition. They must have the fortitude to break down silos and banish old ways of thinking. They must divert money once spent on developing and marketing me-too products to uncovering the killer app and the unmet consumer need. They must fund entrepreneurial ventures and spread seed money among creative-thinking, savvy employees.

Certainly, it's risky. And it clearly runs counter to conventional wisdom in an industry beholden to, and sometimes hamstrung by, shareholders looking for a quick payoff. But it's also the best path to growth.

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