Call it what you will - sleep-shopping, range blindness or, as Asda's ?Andy Bond rightly put it, "bland, amorphous, sameness" - retailers and manufacturers face a clear and present danger. Shoppers want to spend less time in store than ten years ago. The main shop has been shortened from 45 minutes to a trolley-dashing 30 minutes.

In laundry, that leaves just 30 seconds interacting with products. Sadly, the experience is poor - shoppers find fixtures either dull or confusing. It seems that we have built a wall of powder where busy mums can't see for looking.

Brands must get back to giving shoppers what they want and rediscover the art of innovation. And I don't mean wave after wave of me-toos. Eight out of ten people believe that new products are mostly gimmicks not real improvement.

We own Persil but in recent years we have failed to create a real category growth vision. So, while costs have risen sharply, category value has declined as price has become the only weapon of competition.

Now our priority must be to work with customers, recognising their needs for competitive activity but within strategies that enhance category and consumer value.

The current economics are challenging. Oil prices have increased by 125% since 2003. Store-running costs are rising and consumer prices are dropping via promotions. That's the backdrop against which suppliers deal with the vicious circle of deflationary pressure from price, promotions that fail to drive incremental volume and weak NPD that adds no lasting value.

So how can suppliers create success today? First we must respond differently. Too often we've been busy fools chasing short-term goals. Take laundry. The percentage of volume on deal in machine wash has increased across all brands and, until recently, Persil has been at the forefront of this. When I took over Unilever UK Home & Personal Care 15 months ago I discovered that Persil was giving away a large proportion of its sales on promotion.

Second, winning new customers means tapping into new insights into shopper needs. We must then respond with focused investment in R&D to find breakthroughs that target those needs very directly.

In parallel, category management initiatives must reshape the way the aisle is shopped. If well-formed habits are to be broken, then ranging and merchandising must be clear and simple to make innovation visible and understandable.

And third, we must stick with it. The insight-innovation axis needs to be sustained through deep and long-term commitment.

Let me illustrate the point. Some 30 people worked for four years to create Persil Gel tablets and their unique gel layer with built-in stain removers containing 40% less chemicals than our main rival. It took 125m and 30 patents to give consumers what they wanted: a simple option where they wouldn't have to pre-treat hundreds of stains.

There is a crucial difference, though, between this development and Persil's previous breakthroughs pioneering convenience with tablets and capsules. Today the commercial environment is more hostile. Price deflation, aggressive promotions and rising costs escalate risk and actively promote short-termism.

Ninety per cent of buyers say NPD flair is vital to create sales. Powerful insights, world-beating science and the ability to invest serious money are critical for innovation. To flourish, breakthroughs need both time and a positive environment where risk and return are well balanced.