Recently, I had the pleasure of joining CCC and a panel of leading R&D experts including Amenah Ibrahim, principle of AI R&D Project Management Services, LLC., and Jeff George, SVP of Corporate R&D for Hain Celestial, for a discussion on the state of research in food and beverage organizations. Here are some of our key insights on how research best practices can help streamline innovation, discovery, compliance, collaboration and responsiveness across the R&D organization.
Meeting the daily evolution of consumer trends and keeping pace with disruptive innovation is the perennial challenge for food and other consumer package goods (CPG) companies. Big and small, new and old, the challenge is the same: how to discover key research, transform it into winning, breakthrough initiatives, and do it collaboratively and efficiently.
Before considering the type of research to be done, the first step for any R&D team is to define what innovation means to them. For instance, is it a short-term or long-term goal? Is it meant to be disruptive?
I would argue that the real value of researchers in corporate R&D is directly reflected in the value of the information they can provide. There are different formats that research can take when it comes to innovation, especially in food and beverage or personal care products. Before setting sights on breakthrough innovation to address unmet consumer needs, we recommend that R&D teams start by making sure they have answers to questions in a few key areas:
- Consumer research: What do internal teams already know about consumer preferences? What are the most current consumer behaviors relevant to your company, including pricing information?
- Competitive research: What else is happening in the category? What innovation has been successful in other companies? What innovations have not gotten traction or failed?
- Internal research: What are other teams across the organization currently working on? What past R&D successes are repeatable? What internal learnings are available about what should be avoided?
With R&D often siloed by brand or teams in large CPG companies, one of the biggest challenges can be identifying institutional knowledge and simply knowing what other types of research are currently in process. After considering these sources, if a gap and exciting incremental opportunity are identified that solves a consumer problem, this commonly leads to:
- Scientific literature research: What does the current patent landscape tell you about what has already been done in this area? What articles from scientific journals that have been peer reviewed and published are available to support your current hypothesis?
The next important question is, how do you vet your research? While a quick Google search might be enough to provide some level of initial inspiration, it is crucial to base the direction of your next R&D project on validated data and information from credible sources.
One way is to develop a robust open innovation network of subject matter experts to supplement the internal expertise of the company and bring high credibility and often value-added services.
Another way to vet your research and save on countless hours of searching is to start with credible sources in the first place. For example, I was recently asked about the ability to vitamin fortify alcoholic beverages. A Google search produced an article that seemed to clearly outline how this is not an approved option per the FDA. As a simple step to determine the veracity of this information, I made sure to go to fda.gov to locate the article directly from the source. Good, but is that simple vetting enough?
That depends on how researchers plan on using published information. Are they planning to reuse published articles when collaborating with other researchers? Are researchers going to use these articles to support claims to the FDA, or to promote the functional benefits of their product to potential retailers? When responding to officials during a food crisis, teams will scramble for the right information and almost certainly will share that information externally. That is where proper vetting becomes critical.
“We get so enamored with finding the answer we’re looking for in our research that perhaps we don’t always do the due diligence. When we do acquisitions, you have 30 people visit the site to do due diligence. I don’t think we apply the same discipline to information.”
Just what does that due diligence entail? Here are some questions to consider:
- Does your organization have existing subscriptions to relevant trade journals and consumer publications?
- Does your company have the right resources and tools in place to make those publications readily available to all researchers throughout the organization?
- Are employees considering copyright and what rights are available when reusing or collaborating with that content?
- How do you broaden the scope beyond your existing subscriptions to get the most robust yet efficient search possible?
- What additional considerations should be given when sharing published content outside the organization?
To hear more from our panel discussion on how to optimize your research to drive food innovation and organizational success, access the complete session recording here.