from David Lowings, director, 42 Consulting, Maidenhead

Sir; I would like to add a resounding endorsement to Mark Murphy’s criticism of the lack of innovation across all categories at present (‘Tesco attacks brands’ NPD record’, The Grocer, November 20, p68-69).

Just take a look at the whole marketing section in The Grocer, November 20, for some prime examples of the increasing trend towards me-too products:
  • Walkers is trialling Stax, a me-too to Pringles
  • Nestlé Rowntree is launching Golden Crumble, a me-too to Cadbury’s Crunchie
  • Cadbury has launched Dairy Milk Wafer, a me-too to Kit Kat
  • Nestlé Rowntree has launched Blue Label, a me-too to Dairy Milk
  • The filled egg sector has every major confectionery supplier chasing the same consumer with identikit offerings
Thank goodness for caffeine strips, building on the success of breath-fresh strips and taking the delivery mechanism into a new area relevant to consumers.

But what a disappointment that it’s an own label initiative from Boots, not a major brand manufacturer.

The issue is the unwillingness of major manufacturers to invest in true, market-leading innovation. They rely instead on conservative, market-led product development. I hesitate even to call it new product development. Corporate conformity, short-termism (driven by obeisance to the god of share price), and a risk-averse culture, resulting in the tendency to research ideas to death, prevail in almost all sectors.

The result is small, cautious steps, close to home and hardly ground-breaking. As Murphy so rightly points out, where is the next widget, twin-pot yoghurt or Covent Garden Soup? What about the next two-part cooking sauce, Nutri-Grain, Toilet Duck or even Hooper’s Hooch (let’s not forget, it created an entirely new multi-million pound category)?

Of course, things are difficult. Markets are saturated, margins are squeezed, and it is more and more difficult to create exciting new brand and product propositions that truly make a difference. However, this situation is exactly the environment where only step changes can achieve lasting advantage for manufacturers.

What is needed is more creativity, more intuitive flair, more support internally and more willingness to take some risks.