There are some who say innovation in grocery is dead. That these days, it’s only about new variants and flavour extensions.

Not if the New Product & Packaging Awards is anything to go by.

After receiving a record number of entries, a sellout event at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London today saw over 200 products receive a mixture of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in 38 categories.

And as the chair of the judging panel for these awards, it’s safe to say innovation is alive and well.

There was some fantastic innovation: innovation that makes me feel excited about the future. Innovation such as the meat-free Juicy Marbles Thick-Cut Filet.

Amid continued reformulation to meet the new HFSS regulations I’m also excited by innovations in soft drinks like the Hip Pop: Gut Lovin’ Orange Soda.

And there are many more winning products like these to commend in our awards.

This year we also added an important new component to these awards, recognising the increasingly important role of packaging innovation, particularly to address sustainability concerns and the circular economy. This was reflected in the creation of five new packaging awards and a change in the name of the awards, of course, to the New Product & Packaging Awards.

Huge diversity in NPD

There have been some real ground-breaking advancements on the packaging side including the Little Dish Ready Meal Range whose clever design and brilliant use of materials won three awards.

Or Nestlé’s Quality Street Paper Wrappers.

I was also pleased to see there’s still room for innovation around life’s little luxuries, as well as innovation that’s value-driven and unashamedly populist.

This diversity is hugely important. We need NPD of all kinds for this sector to thrive. And as the New Product & Packaging Awards show, brand owners big and small are delivering it.

What’s all the more remarkable about this innovation is that it’s being developed against the odds.

It’s not at all easy out there. There’s no doubt it’s getting harder to gain listings for NPD in the supermarkets. With continuing inflation amid the cost of living crisis, retailers have switched their focus more and more to lower quality, entry-level products, as shoppers seek value through trading down.

In many cases that’s meant own-label.

Meanwhile, it’s true that some manufacturers out there have scaled back on genuine innovation. New research from Mintel shows that the number of genuinely new products has more than halved from 33% to 16% in the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, new packaging accounts for 31% of NPD these days, up from 20% in 2013.

But with so much focus on sustainability – not to mention all the pack size changes to adapt to food price inflation – that seems fair enough to me.

It’s also worth pointing out that the number of new variants has actually fallen in the past two years, returning to the same levels as 10 years ago.

An increase in fmcg brand innovation 

But the most significant change noted by Mintel, surely, is the increase in innovation among brands.

In 2020, brands accounted for just 62% of innovation. It’s now increased to 70%. Not as high as the high water mark of 78% in 2017.

But increased branded innovation is crucial not only for brand owners – many of whom have been recording negative volume growth – but for retailers too.

It’s crucial because a lot of the winners in the New Product & Packaging Awards are doing stuff own label simply can’t do. Or certainly won’t do until brands do it first. Developing and picking up on new consumer trends. Supporting and stimulating category interest and growth.

These awards are, therefore, an incredibly important reminder to retailers – and shoppers – of the fantastic innovation in which brands big and small are engaged: enriching the lives of customers, who look to brands, as much as they do to the supermarkets, to innovate and excite them, while providing much-needed revenue, and differentiation, and quality, to the grocers.

So to all the winners at the New Product & Packaging Awards, congratulations. And thank you.

Innovation is alive and well, as the New Product & Packaging Awards show