Seeing Coca-Cola launch a new 250ml can to address the impulse slump and the needs of convenience retailers shows real commercial insight.

Coke provides a format and pack size that fills a genuine commercial gap in convenience retailers’ businesses. The format and price point address a specific channel need. It’s just one of 20 formats that make Coke convenient for every occasion, all part of its strategy of putting a Coke within arm’s reach of everyone. It’s that simple.

What it also flags is the fact that there is too much focus on consumers being the nexus for all insights that lead to strong innovation. Trade and channel needs must play a key role too.

“Brands need to get closer to how trade and distribution channels think”

There should be more of a focus on commercial insights, needs and gaps from a trade and retail perspective, so new formats, new pack sizes and better service innovations can be generated to help the channels compete uniquely, above and beyond price alone. It’s tough out there, so businesses need to play a more active role, with a more commercially inspired innovation focus, to help channels sell better and grow their categories.

Most businesses pride themselves in stating that consumers are at the heart of their innovation strategy. This is not wrong, but it should not rule out inspiring yet pragmatic approaches that give trade and distribution channels an equal, or certainly a more balanced, say in defining the gaps that need to be met.

Innovation teams also need to acknowledge just how important the trade stakeholders and channel needs are. All channels should have a voice and be listened to if relevant innovations are to be created that really fill gaps in the market. Co-creation with trade partners could play a key role in addressing this.

Brands need to get closer to how the different trade and distribution channels think. What gaps are there that could make their lives easier? Which bits of the business processes are too hard or costly and could be simplified? Is easier product identification an issue? Do convenience store owners need to hit a price point to meet the needs of cash-strapped younger consumers? Could new packaging enable smarter stacking and restocking?

Trade and distribution channels should be a lead source of insight for successful innovation and growth. There are glaring gaps to be filled, better services to be provided and commercially astute innovations to be generated. We’d be better equipped to tackle all this if more trade insight was gained upfront in the innovation process.

Then, perhaps, we’d witness the dawn of a new mantra: channel and consumer at the heart of successful innovation.