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Less leeway in product development, says guide

By Charlotte Eyre , 05-Nov-2007

A UK guide is designed to help food manufacturers develop new products, in an industry nowadays under more and more pressure from legislation, consumer demands and rising costs.

The 2007 edition of "Product Development Guide for the Food Industry", published by the Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association Group (CCFRA), is likely to be welcomed by food research and development (R&D) teams who have to consider a myriad of data every time they create a new product for any particular range.


According to the CCFRA, product development is vital in the food industry, as it is virtually impossible to increase margins through the marketing and sales through the same product year on year.


"Virtually every product has its upper sales limit and many will go through a cycle of market growth and subsequent decline," the research group said.


The popularity of a new product is therefore key to increased margins, the group added, because although there is a limit to an individual's spending power, consumer preference for any particular product knows no bounds.


However, while product development must be aimed at consumer taste and lifestyle, any R&D team must also comply with legal constrictions such as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), a set of international safety measures that must be applied across the food chain.


"Failure to manage the legal aspects of trade in new product introductions is a significant contributor to failure rates," CCFRA said.


For example, the guide advises on certain ingredients that provoke allergic responses in consumers, such as peanuts, and on how they should be labelled on the product packaging.


This impacts manufacturers financially not only in the cost of printing the labels, but also in separating production facilities from those of "non-allergenic foods", while there is also the possibility of eventual law suits if cross contamination occurs.


Packaging and chemical guidelines also have an affect on product development, as there are many UK and EU guidelines to what packaging materials can be used for what products.


One packaging material, tin, is only allowed limited use in cans, as "some studies have shown that intake of high concentrations may cause short-term gastrointestinal problems."


The guide also discusses ethical or consumer issues, such as a growing market for products certified as Fairtrade, recycling and sustainability.


Every time a researcher deliberates over an ethical issue, he or she must consider the financial consequences for the company, the CCRFA says.


"An otherwise 'good idea' may require the use of cheap ingredients from a Third World country to be financially viable," the guide says. "The company may feel that this is ethically unacceptable per se or at least involve a commercially unacceptable risk."


As well as discussing all the factors that product innovators must consider, the guide also describes the processes they should go through to test ideas, such a pilot experimentation and cost models.


According to a recent European Commission study, Competitiveness of the European Food Industry, the food and drink industry is the single biggest manufacturing sector in Europe, buying and selling 70 per cent of Europe's agricultural output.


It is made up of about 280,000 companies, provides jobs for four million people and has an annual turnover in excess of €800bn.


However, according to the report, the industry's lack of innovation is making the EU less competitive, and leading to less profit being available for investment.


The report states that The EU food and drink industry currently spends less on R&D than its main competitors, only 0.32 per cent of turnover compared to 0.40 in the US and 0.79 in Japan.


Initiatives set up to encourage R&D include the European Technology Platform Food of Life, launched by the EC in 2005, and a conference on the issue currently being organized by the European Commission's Directorate General for Enterprise Policy.


Publication: Product Development Guide for the Food Industry Editor: T. C. Hutton


Publisher: Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association Group