In a career spanning more than two decades within the food and drink industry, I have witnessed a significant shift in how businesses have had to adapt to stay ahead.
I’ve been privileged to work for dynamic, innovative European businesses looking to take the huge success they have achieved in their domestic markets into new categories, sometimes with a blueprint that can easily be replicated for a complex and diverse UK audience, and sometimes not.
Hipp Organic successfully made that transition and it did so long before my time started with the company some 18 months ago. It is also a business that has had to constantly innovate to keep setting the pace in an increasingly competitive arena. And that is exactly the challenge we share in common today with major manufacturers across all retail categories.
What has been clear during our conversations with retailers is they are increasingly looking for big brands to help expand and add value to categories.
Playing the role of challenger, we recently announced plans for our first move beyond babyfood into wider babycare, with the launch of a new range of baby skincare products. All the products in the range are free-from and suitable for ultra-sensitive young skin, and we hope to replicate the success that our colleagues have already achieved in other parts of Europe.
There are a growing number of precedents across the market for big brands creating successful cross-category fertilisation. Premier Foods’ Ambrosia took an innovative step into new frozen territory earlier this year with the launch of an ice cream-style dessert inspired by US trends, while Yeo Valley made a similar move this summer with the launch of Vanilla Custard N’Ice Cream. In the same vein, Weetabix has scored a phenomenal success with a new On The Go drinks format, while Unilever expanded its partnership with Thomas J Fudge’s Remarkable Bakery to roll out an on-the-go snack in the Marmite portfolio.
Innovation within a brand’s existing category also remains a feature. We have been doing our bit with a series of new products in babyfood throughout the last year - including new specialist milks and the UK’s only range of Porridge Pouches for babies.
However, research from IRI shows a 13% fall in the number of new launches from 2013 to 2015. It’s clear big brands of all shapes and sizes need to continue stepping up to the plate to drive new sales opportunities.
There’s a clear desire from retailers for big brands to lead the way when it comes to true innovation, while the challenge for brand owners is to reconsider how they can bring about change by developing products that will not only resonate with shoppers but also deliver growth. There are several new players in the market, which we welcome, but it’s essential they also invest in innovation to help strengthen the category and drive growth overall.
As leading brands, we need to be bold, confident and take a risk. It’s our responsibility to drive innovation. After all, that’s no less than what our retail partners and their shoppers quite rightly expect of us.
John Allaway is general manager of Hipp Organic