It’s no secret that for a long time, big brands really didn’t have to worry too much about the product, the quality of the ingredients and the integrity and sustainability of their manufacturing processes.
Often times their marketing budget was far greater than their R&D spent — I believe the graph below says it all.
Even in my own experience, quickly after joining Diageo where I had been working on new product launches across Western Europe for almost 2 years, it became quite clear to me that marketing was leading the conversation when it came to introducing innovation to the market and not the product itself.
I had the feeling big brands were primarily focusing on selling their existing products and maximize their profits instead of trying to predict future trends and develop new products and creating categories aligned with them.
In addition, when deciding which product to launch, they were heavily relying on consumers researches made by agencies, instead of being on the ground understanding what consumers really wanted.
I believe while marketing is a crucial part of the business that won’t ever go away, the future of food means a return to food products taking center stage. We see that consumers are demanding better food more and more, not better marketing and I personally think they are simply choosing the brands that best mirror their needs and values.
In the past few years, innovators and brands developed products and concepts with flavour and overall good taste in mind. However in a world where people in some parts of the world are still starving and climate change and food waste remain still big issues to face, many food businesses started reassessing the way they’re developing new products to:
- meet the demand of a growingly conscious consumer when it comes to health and sustainability
- inspire consumers to eat smarter (and healthier)
- ensure that production is sustainable and ecological
The result is providing consumers with smartly designed choices that will benefit both personal and global health and I believe we’ll see more and more business follow in the same pattern.
I believe we’ve entered the age where in food the product is king and marketing comes second. It’s the product quality doing the selling now and smaller brands, like Snact, Nix & Kix or Pip&Nut, are leading up the way by providing consumers with wholesome and sustainable products; and letting that be their marketing focus. As startups they all still need to do quite a little bit of marketing but they do maximize their (often tiny) budget on digital marketing smartly and do let the product and word-of-mouth do the rest.
Now the question is: as a sense of mindful innovation rises to the top, will big food brands be able to keep up with ever-changing consumers’ needs alone?
In my experience meeting with a number of corporate executives in leadership positions at food companies, I’ve encountered some great people who have deeply grasped the value of collaborating with startups to create better food and I’m very much optimistic that these people will help their companies lead the charge for developing more mindful innovation. After all, intrinsically great food products might mean less work for the marketing department, but certainly more value for the consumers.