Six month check in: Catalina service to track new products

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Catalina Marketing Corp., which specializes in targeted supermarket-checkout coupons, is adding a service to help consumer package-goods companies manage new-product introductions and refine marketing plans in the first six months of a product's life.

There's a lot at stake. According to new-product database Productscan Online, 30,000 new products annually vie for the 25,000 total spots in the average supermarket, and Information Resources Inc. estimates that 52% of new package-goods products fail before their second year. Nonetheless, "new products are the primary driver of growth for almost every [package-goods] manufacturer," said Valerie Skala, VP-analytic marketing at IRI.

Catalina Executive Director of Marketing Michael Fridholm said the "six month blind spot" is not addressed by traditional measurement and research tools from companies like IRI and ACNielsen, which tend to focus more on pre-launch testing and consumer panels that take time to reach critical mass.

Catalina's New Product Response System, or NPRS, leverages the company's database of frequent-shopper cards to provide marketers with behavioral and attitudinal data about new products within two to four weeks of launch. Catalina's static database of 18 million frequent shoppers enables it to print coupons at the checkout counters of 12,000 supermarkets across the country.

Whereas other services such as IRI's BehaviorScan and ACNielsen BASES offer pre-launch testing, Catalina's service gleans data after the product hits the shelves. "This tool enables [marketers] to know if their positioning is ringing true in the marketplace," said Mr. Fridholm, citing one NPRS customer that changed a claim appearing on its packaging that was turning some consumers away. Three marketers including, H.J. Heinz Co., are currently using NPRS, which launched broadly in March.

NPRS prints an invitation at checkout asking shoppers who purchase the new product to call a 1-800 number and participate in a survey. Consumers receive a $5 store discount as an incentive to complete the survey, which generally evaluates 500 respondents, Mr. Fridholm said. That attitudinal information complements purchase information-that distinguishes one-time buyers from repeat users-which Catalina can analyze across various segments.

"You generally don't see the rich, consumer-purchase information or attitudes from people who've purchased your product until around month six. That's your make-or-break time for a lot of new products," he said.

But some industry watchers say that's too late.

missing the boat

"If you're a [consumer package-goods] marketer waiting until two months after the product launched to see how consumers are reacting to it, you've missed the boat," said Tom Kuczmarski, president of consultancy Kuczmarski & Associates.

Doug Hall, CEO of Eureka! Ranch, which invents and researches new products and services, said Catalina's system-although having some value as an early warning of a product's success or failure-offers too little, too late. "We want to have preventive tools early on," he said. "After the fact, it's sort of like accident reports."

While also skeptical, Tom Vierhile, executive editor of Productscan, said that with so many millions spent on launches, any service that might reduce the risk of failure is welcome. "Anything you can do at the front end to prevent some of those dollars from being flushed down the toilet is a good investment."

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