To Launch a New Food Product, First Find Your Niche

It can't just be good; it has to be unique

Woman looking at a new beverage in her supermarket.

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The success rate for new product launches in the food and beverage business is around 10%, according to NielsenWire. That's not because the other 90% tasted lousy, or at least many of them didn't. More often, it's because the people who created them couldn't or didn't differentiate them from all of the other similar products out there.

That's where NielsenWire's Key Steps to Consumer Adoption can help. NielsenWire is a research giant that scoops up information from the supermarket scanner and turns it into valuable information that supermarkets and food and beverage brands use across the U.S.

Nielsen's "Step 1" alone is worth a closer look because a new product's survival depends on it. It is this: "Your product must offer true innovation; it must be something that people will actually want." Nielsen calls this "the distinct proposition."

Identify Your Niche

Consider what makes your food and beverage product different from all of the others like it on the market. That is your niche.

To be clear, it takes more than a great tasting product to pitch the supermarket buyer and then to get the customer to try your product, much less buy it again. Your product must be positioned as truly different from the competition. You have to separate your emotional investment in the product to really answer that question.

The industry's Fancy Food Show showcases far too many "me too" products. Do we really need another premium-priced barbecue sauce, unsweetened tea, chocolate, or olive oil? An entrepreneur starting a food business can spend precious product development dollars only to run into trouble getting into retailers whose shelves are already stuffed with variations of the same thing.

Yet some of those "me too" products are going to thrive despite competition from the many private-label store brands of foods that aren't very different and cost less for the same ingredients. The answer is branding.

Build Your Brand

Build a brand that speaks to your consumer, and your image and packaging may be the distinct proposition that leads to your success. What was so different about Late July snack chips from the other chips out there? It was an image and packaging that appealed to a particular subset of consumers. The brand thrived and ultimately was acquired. 

Communicate Your Difference

The maker of a new brand of carrot cake ran into some trouble right at launch. You might well ask who needs yet another carrot cake. It was a good question in this case, and the maker initially wasn't answering it to the satisfaction of potential retail or consumer buyers.

They finally hit on an answer: This was not just another carrot cake. This was an authentic Southern-style carrot cake made with all-natural ingredients. That difference allowed them to credibly pitch supermarket buyers that this product was unique and would bring new customers into their bakery departments.

There's a big difference between saying, "We make carrot cake," and saying, "We make an authentic Southern-style line of gluten-free and all-natural cakes and cupcakes that look and taste like homemade." Which one would you buy?