In an increasingly competitive landscape, food companies involved in new product development and manufacture are facing more and more challenges. The manufacturing industry as a whole is preparing for a tough year. According to a survey carried out by EEF, less than a quarter (23%) of those manufacturing firms surveyed expected opportunities to outnumber risks in 2017.
For food manufacturers there is a lot to contend with – a global demand on resources, an increasing number of competitors, economic uncertainty and many more. We explore some of these challenges and how they might be overcome:
Meeting Consumer Demands
Many of the challenges faced by food manufacturers relate to meeting changing consumer demands. Often this needs to happen quickly and with costs kept to a minimum.
Consumers change their behaviour all the time, with new preferences and emerging fads dominating many buying decisions. This happens often, meaning that food manufacturers must develop products to meet these demands in ever-shorter timeframes. Recent trends include high protein products, Omega 3 supplements, on-the-go nutritional snacks over more traditional meals, as well as a whole host of other food trends.
There is no doubt that we have moved into a world of more diverse consumer needs where requirements are becoming increasingly personal. Food manufacturers need to work more closely with customers to understand their individual needs and goals. They also need to be as efficient when it comes to developing new recipes and getting products out to market.
We take a closer look at some of the wider consumer trends:
Consumers want healthier products but without any compromise on taste. As a result they are studying product labels more than ever before, wanting to know exactly what is in the food they are consuming. This means that food manufacturers need to develop products with reduced (or no) salt, sugar, trans and saturated fats, and without compromising on flavour.
The use of these ingredients is widespread and finding alternatives poses a considerable challenge. What makes this issue all the more complex is the fact that consumers actually want the taste of sugar and salt in their products. Artificial sweeteners are also out of favour with some consumers so manufacturers are being forced to experiment with other flavours and enhancers.
In recent years, there has been a growing demand for free-from products. The popularity of fat-free and sugar-free products has increased dramatically. Some of this is down to a greater awareness of food allergens and other times it is a lifestyle choice. There are now a large number of free-from products available with everything from gluten to soy, dairy to mustard, nuts to sodium.
The growth in the market for gluten-free products has reached a level where Warburtons, Delicious Alchemy and Genius Foods among others have set-up the Gluten Free Industry Association (GFIA). One of its principal goals is to share best practice and develop guidelines on ingredient sourcing and gluten-testing.
2017 is likely to see the continued growth of the low FODMAP (an acronym for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) movement. Followers of a low FODMAP diet, some of which have digestive complaints, look to eliminate these carbohydrates that are found in natural foods as well as additives.
The main challenge with free-from products is sourcing alternative ingredients and then getting them to behave together in the same way in the new product. It can be difficult to use replacement ingredients and get them to interact in the same way as they did in the original recipe. Despite using different ingredients, you also need to achieve the same flavour, consistency and texture.
For example, with gluten-free products, food manufacturers need to find alternative compounds to bond the ingredients together. Not only this, but they have to ensure that the taste, texture, appearance, cost, shelf life and nutritional content all maintain a standard expected by the consumer. You also need to ensure that there are very minimal differences in appearance from the original products, as any changes could result in your product failing to satisfy consumers and them opting for an alternative. This can involve significant amounts of experimentation before a suitable product is ready for market.
What are clean labels?
In order to meet consumer demands, many brands are looking to remove artificial ingredients from their products. These are referred to as ‘clean label’ products. They tend to be naturally derived without any genetic modification, minimally processed and organic.
There are a number of issues faced by food manufacturers when it comes to clean label products. Primarily, the difficulties faced by free-from products remain in that you have to create something that tastes and behaves as you want by using alternative natural ingredients. Related to this issue is the question of definition – what is classified as a ‘natural product’ or ‘naturally derived’? The upshot is that manufacturers may find themselves with a very limited pool of ingredients to use in their new products.
In order to get a reformulated product that looks the same and behaves the same takes a considerable amount of work and experimentation.
How NPD:tech can help you meet consumer demands
agile:NPDtech comes with a History Log that allows you to track changes to recipes and specifications. It also makes it easy for New Product Development (NPD) and technical teams to collaborate, with all information secure in one place. This is vital when you are experimenting with new ingredients to meet demands for free-from, healthier and cleaner products.
Food Industry Challenges
There are a number of other demands that remain consistent in the food industry such as cutting costs, bringing products to market quickly, standing out in increasingly competitive markets and staying compliant with a large number of regulations. Maintaining the best possible methods of storing, packaging, preserving, and distributing products remains a constant challenge.
With Brexit on the horizon, new challenges are likely to be faced around the sourcing of ingredients and the economic impact of potential barriers to trade.
We take a look at some of these food sector challenges in more detail:
Numerous laws and regulations govern the food sector in Britain. These relate to the production, processing, distribution, retail, packaging and labelling of food products. The General Food Law Regulation (EC) is the EU legislation that sets out food safety, traceability of food, food presentation, for the withdrawal or recall of unsafe food placed on the market and import and export rules. The Food Safety and Hygiene (England) Regulations 2013 enforces these regulations. Elsewhere, there is further legislation with the Food Standards Act 1999, the Food Safety Act 1990 and General food law. Allergen rules are understandably strict with detailed lists of ingredients required and compliant labelling.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) enforces food safety in Britain, carrying out inspections as part of this. Their regulatory role is undergoing review under the ‘Regulating our Future’ project. This could see further changes to regulations around food safety and labelling.
With an increasing number of regulations and guidelines for food production businesses to comply with, there is a daily challenge to remain compliant and deliver safe, affordable and healthy foods to consumers. With so many regulations, not all of which are completely clear, there is a real burden placed on food production companies.
Changes in these regulations often require rapid responses. It is vitally important that companies can show their compliance. The majority of food standard legislation is set by the European Union. With Brexit on the horizon, there are likely to be far-reaching changes that will require food manufacturers to change how they operate to meet a new set of regulations.
Food manufacturing businesses need to be able to and meet all the regulatory requirements at the same time. This can require them to adjust their strategies and product development initiatives to meet regulations as well take measure to ensure a responsible supply chain.
Generating new ideas – food product developers
It is vitally important to a food company’s success to be able to introduce new product ranges in order to maintain growth and fight off competitors. Developing new products can open up new revenue channels but always come with the risk of failure.
Coming up with original ideas and then having the ability to rapidly create new products or variants constantly is a major challenge. In order for these products to succeed (the majority of new products fail), these products need to stay ahead of consumer trends and appeal to supermarkets.
NPD teams work tirelessly on coming up with new ideas. It is extremely difficult to maintain innovation in new products when consumer demands change so quickly and often in unpredictable ways. Add to this the fact that big supermarkets are refining their product lines and reducing the number they stock, means there is even more competition. Finding the ideas that will meet supermarkets needs and consumers is increasingly hard.
Breakthrough products often come from smaller and more agile companies and start-ups, putting more pressure on the bigger manufacturers to compete.
Scaling up recipes – manufacturing at large scale
If you have a successful product that is picked up by a major supermarket or distributor, then you need to be able to produce it at scale. An inability to produce industrial scale batches that are of the same standard and quality as your product can see you miss out on opportunities.
Scaling up recipes for mass production can be a complex process that involves considering numerous factors. It can be a major challenge, especially for smaller companies and start-ups. It can involve challenges around the sourcing of ingredients, quality control and tracking samples in and out. Where supermarkets are concerned, the ability to move quickly and guarantee compliance is essential.
You also need to consider the equipment, how your ingredients behave at different volumes and ensuring they behave the same at scale as well adjustments to cooking times and temperatures. You need a formula that can work at various batch sizes. Smaller companies with only the capability to produce relatively small batches may need to work with a contract manufacturer
How agile:NPDtech can help you solve these problems
New recipe ideas can flourish with agile:NPDtech – the modules are designed to track ingredients, open up communication between tech teams and NPD teams and evolve ideas into products and get them out to market quicker than ever before. The software improves concept development by encouraging all parties to communicate. You can also track samples in and out.
agile:NPDtech also allows you to write your specifications more efficiently and share them between the NPD and Technical teams. These teams can then communicate easily with each other, all the while adding information in one convenient place until you have a full product spec.
agile:NPDtech can help you to track recipe and specification changes, logging every change, by whom and when. When it comes to scaling up recipes, agile:NPDtech gives you visibility around the ingredients and the success of various variations. It can also help you record details of the supply chain for each ingredient.
agile:NPDtech is designed to help improve all phases and aspects of new product development. From the original specifications, ideation, recipe tracking, and communications between all involved parties. It will help your business improve its NPD output, in turn giving you more chances of success when growing your product lines. The product is cloud-based and ultra-secure, giving your whole team access when and where they need it.
NPD:tech is designed for food manufacturers as well as those companies involved in NPD and developing specs without manufacturing. It gives you the agility you need to compete in the marketplace.
The ultimate aim is to allow you to get your innovative products out to market as quickly and as efficiently as possible – a necessity in the current market.
If you want to find out more about pricing or have any questions about how it can improve your business get in contact with the team on 0117 321 0104.