from Kate Waddell, senior consultant, Brandsmiths

Sir; Recently, I stumbled on a bag of Cadbury Shots during a tedious M4 comfort break. Being unfamiliar with this product, I asked my companion for a description. “It’s like a big round crispy-coated non-coloured Smartie really,” came the reply. “Very exotic,” I thought. But then, the penny dropped. “So it’s just a round Minstrel then?”
This copycat innovation is all too common. But why is it reaching epidemic proportions among branded food manufacturers?
First, so much today is driven by what can be run down a line using existing materials and outdated consumer research. This limits shape, size, filling, flavour and appeal. Second, many good ideas don’t get the weight of trade interest necessary to justify mass production. Third, many brand managers today look first to the competition rather than at the heart of their brand, culture or capabilities for ideas.
This isn’t surprising given few businesses foster a culture willing to make mistakes. With so many manufacturers answerable to shareholders, reckless experimentation can’t be seen to happen. Maybe that’s why increasingly more risky NPD happens in partnership with retailers. Here risk is shared with manufacturers and failure is more easily absorbed. It appears to explain why many smaller, independent manufacturers like Fiddes Payne (‘Survival of the Fiddes’, The Grocer, January 15, p35) have innovation cracked.
Too much time is focused on generating the idea and not enough about what consumers are looking for and what the pitch is going to be. Consequently, organisations are developing new ideas for brands based on imperfect ideas about what makes a brand tick.
These factors help to explain why so many are favouring extension over NPD. Orange Kit Kats (for example) can use the same packaging templates and manufacturing lines, they’re an easy sell in, low risk proposition. They can be simply, cheaply and clearly communicated to consumers. No-one gets sacked for launching Orange Kit Kats. But will they change the market or win huge share? No. What’s more, the public won’t fall for it.
I know of many bemoaning the appearance of a new Ribena or the dipper-shaped Pringle. The market for full-scale NPD is there, it just requires the vision and courage.