Food Innovation and Product Design – This workshop gets the right products to market

Food Innovation and Product Design – This workshop gets the right products to market

a workshop designing a food product

Earlier I wrote about product design in Food. How your mindset determines how fast you go, if you are willing to do things differently. How this is done in Digital product development. But you’ll learn it works just as well for most Food NPD process.

Food Innovation and Product design

The market demands new food products. Maybe even more so than a couple of years back. I’m confident that most of the novel food products aren’t driven by new, ground-breaking technology. More on this in a previous article. Success of a new product largely depends on branding, market demands and how well a concept fits real consumer needs. And traditionally these things are validated only at the end of a project. When most of the budget is already spend.

Doing your essential validation at the end of a project is, well, backward. Not surprising, I see these projects take long, are costly and come with considerable risk. I think there is a better way.

A better way to do it

If something is backward, turn it around.

So you should start by looking at your consumer. And really understand what drives them. Then think up a concept that fits the needs and test promptly. Because until you do, all you have are assumptions.

We do Food Innovation. In our work we put desirability first, we learned this is the limiting factor and usually gets too little attention early in the process. Only if we see big risks we add a quick scan on feasibility and viability. And this is how such a workshop typically looks like:

  1. Start to gain a deep understanding of your challenge. And possibly reframe what you want to solve. Frequently we uncover a deeper need that makes for better products.
  2. Then think up as many solutions for your problem as you can.
  3. Choose the best solutions.
  4. Carefully consider how you want to test these solutions. Tests should involve your potential consumers and be as real as possible. You’ll want to make prototypes, or mock up your concept in another way.
  5. Prepare your prototypes and do the tests.
    Note: This step is essential in making this method work. It can be the difficult to get this right. Don’t worry, I’ll include some hints further down in this article.
  6. There will be a lot of data. Fuzzy data. Cut through it and draw firm conclusions. And craft a clear story to make them stick outside of your workshop.

Better and faster

Reading this schedule, it may look like a months’ worth of work. But I usually run these workshops in a mere 4 days. So you create the right product, and you do it faster.

Be frank now… how does this compare to your current NPD process?

A few hints to make the workshop work for you

Now you have the recipe to save tons of time and make products your consumers actually care about. But, as with cooking, preparation is everything.

You’ll be doing a lot in a short amount of time. If you prepare well, the week will feel a lot less stressful, and results are usually better. So take some time to prepare for the week. Take extra care on these points:

  • Focus is key. And focus means doing 1 thing at a time. The amount of progress you can make in a week is amazing, but there shouldn’t be distractions. Prepare for this, and clear every attendees schedule.
  • In order to move fast, have all experts in your room. Having the multidisciplinary team makes that you don’t loose time waiting for input from outside of the group. And you’ll source all knowledge available to quickly get to the best version of an idea.
  • Make sure your team has a mandate to decide and move forward. So you don’t lose time waiting for an outside approval. And -very important- makes that the result of the week is easily adopted by the organisation. If the final result is disapproved by higher powers…. all was done for nothing.

Prototype

The product prototype is an important prop in your user tests. I learned the better the prototype looks, the more valuable insights you’ll get off them. For prototypes you can make a packshot, or a hand-craft a physical product. Or maybe put a real product on the shelves in a retail outlet. Use your imagination!

To keep the speed up, I never spend more than 1 day on crafting the prototype.

The proof of the pudding…

Instant validation is the essential bit in this method, and sets it apart from all other hackathons, brainstorm and pressure cooking sessions.

The validation makes that you can actually score your solutions and pick the performers. Without it, all you have are ideas and assumptions. And ideas are really cheap. Cheap as in: easy to generate. Think for a minute about all the downstream investments that you’ll be doing, and what if they’re based on assumptions…

Usually there’s some fuzz about the consumer tests. To be fair, it can be hard to get it right. But at the other hand, don’t overthink it. Though it may be something out of your comfort zone, don’t mystify it. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll learn from tests that are not quite an academic text book example.

Sufficient validation can be done quickly and cheaply

At the very least, know your consumer demographics (gender, age, nationality, income, etc.). But rather go beyond this and try to understand your customer on a functional, social and emotional level as well.

For this you can spend a lot of money on market research agencies and wait a couple of weeks. Or take it in your own hands. My preference for validating Food propositions is a combination of:

  • Qualitative validation – what do a couple of consumers really think. Possibly show them your prototype. Drive deep down to their needs and desires.
  • Quantitative validation – how’s the response from a large group of your potential consumers. I did earlier write-ups on how to do this.

And I usually do these tests in a day or so.

Notes on this proces

I believe all new product introductions should have upfront validation. And also, in 2 years from now, we can’t imagine how we ever did without. Join the movement, because your competitors will!

My method is a mashup of The tried and tested Lean Startup and a Design Sprint. Design Sprints are a revolutionary method invented by Google Ventures, but now slowly taking over the world. It’s a hands-on design thinking recipe used to design and improve products, or otherwise solve big challenges. I’m a big fan and it’s a great way to craft really good concepts. Fast and with low risk.

And for the Dutchies: I published this article before, in Dutch. That went down well, but I got quite some requests to translate it. So, here you go! And thank you all for your feedback, it helps me deliver better content! 🙌


Hi, I’m Aart. I run Design Sprints and custom workshops to rapidly design food concepts and validate them with consumers. In 1 week and with absolutely no need to build factories beforehand.

Hungry for more? Join my meetup group, get Design Sprint training, let’s have a virtual coffee or find me on social media.