New product development in the food industry: turn your assays and pilots from bottleneck to competitive advantage


Innovation has always been a key aspect of any food processing company’s competitive positioning. It has now become essential in times of unprecedented challenges for the food industry, like more stringent food safety regulations, increasing market demand for healthier and more sustainable food, and the pressing need to find new solutions for feeding a growing population.

In this context, new product development has come in the spotlight as a critical step in the process of bringing innovative food products to the market. 

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the testing and piloting activities in the NPD process, one critical phase that can quickly turn into a bottleneck when ill-defined, and we’ll discuss how modern cloud platforms can help transform it into a competitive advantage.

Recent trends in the food industry

In recent years, the food industry has become a highly regulated sector in order to protect consumers from potential threats to their health related to food. Public food safety authorities, like the FDA in the US or the EFSA in Europe, are constantly evaluating the compliance of thousands of regulated food ingredients such as additives, flavorings, enzymes, etc. and the safety of food production processes.

At the same time, consumers in developed countries are much more demanding from their food in terms of choice, quality, safety and nutritional value than they were 25 years ago. For instance, organic food has become a must for the higher end of the food market. On the other hand, hunger and malnutrition are far from disappearing in developing countries and the challenge of feeding an ever-growing world population is only getting harder with global warming creating extreme climate conditions in certain parts of the world. As a result, the global food production ecosystem feels greater pressure.

So we’re seeing 4 leading trends that will shape the food industry in the 21st century:

  • Transparency is the one that has emerged most recently and is profoundly transforming the whole food ecosystem. As Food Industry Executive puts it, transparency builds consumer trust as “consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it was produced and how it was sourced”.
  • The only way to ensure transparency is traceability around the entire lifecycle of a product, including all raw materials and ingredients that have been used in the production process, or as one of our customers puts it, “from the pitchfork to the fork”.
  • Sustainability is the next big thing which goes hand in hand with transparency. According to Lux Research’s The Food Company of 2050, as consumers are increasingly concerned with the impact of their way of life on the environment, increasing sustainability is one of the areas where food companies must focus if they expect to perform in the next 30 years.
  • Tailored to fit extends the personalized consumer goods trend to our plates. According to Innova Market Insights, over 60% of global consumers are looking for ways to tailor the products they are buying to their lifestyle, beliefs and needs.

In this new environment, food companies have no choice but relentless innovation. Food brands are now built on trust. Good is no longer enough and food businesses must deliver on their promises of healthy, sustainable and transparent products.

The evolving role of new product development

Historically, the food industry has not been known for high intensity in R&D and high levels of technology adoption. But the emerging trends we’ve discussed above are forcing food manufacturers to adapt and transform their product chain, driven by fierce competition.

Basically, new product development (NPD) is the process of creating a new product and bringing it to the market. A typical NPD model would follow an approach based on milestones, consisting of idea generation and scoping, the development of a business case, product testing and evaluation and finally product launch. 

Most NPD models in use in food companies have not been designed with food manufacturing’s specifics in mind. For instance, ingredients used in food processing are perishable. Sourcing and quality may evolve over time forcing manufacturers to adapt their production lines under continuous change. Mitigating environmental impacts of food consumption has to be taken into account by NPD as it’s estimated that 80% of the total impact is determined at design stage.

In a recent publication by MDPI, the authors have highlighted the modifications that should be made in new product development models to fit the current needs of the food industry:

  • Meeting consumer demands and sensory attributes,
  • Manage the seasonality of ingredients,
  • Include local sourcing of ingredients,
  • Manage the impact of safety regulations,
  • Manage the traceability of ingredients, intermediate and final products along their entire lifecycle,
  • Scaling up recipes and processes from small batches produced for testing to industrial production for global markets,
  • Manage the environmental impact over the product full lifecycle.

A key aspect of food NPD models is testing. Whether it’s for confirming feasibility and stability after initial lab experiments, or for validating different marketing assumptions about consumer needs and perceptions, or for running pilots to make sure that the product can be manufactured at scale while maintaining product quality and safety, testing takes center stage in the NPD process and bears a significant portion of the project’s costs and elapsed time.

Testing often involves dedicated facilities, like pilot plants, where multi-disciplinary teams combining food scientists and process engineers, work together under tight schedules to design stable production processes.

When ill-designed and poorly equipped, testing and piloting can quickly become a bottleneck for new product launches and harm time-to-market and competitiveness.

Why a modern cloud platform can help

Testing and piloting can’t be effective without proper software tools for a number of good reasons:

  • The number of different tests to be performed can be huge and in constant flux,
  • Product teams almost always operate under very tight schedules, dictated by time-to-market imperatives,
  • Safety requirements are the same as in regular manufacturing plants, but on a much smaller production scale and under pressing needs for agility and adaptability, safety compliance is much harder to maintain.

In this environment, we’ve found that traditional quality control and/or enterprise production planning systems, developed to address the needs of more stable manufacturing processes, don’t fit the needs. Same for traditional product lifecycle management systems that often have been designed for discrete manufacturing. All those systems are deemed too expensive, requiring complex and lengthy setup, and lacking the agility to adapt to ever-changing requirements. 

On the other hand, spreadsheets, shared documents and file systems, and constant back and forth emails don’t pass the mark either.

That’s why we believe that a modern cloud platform can create efficiencies in the testing and piloting activities involved in new product development. What’s at stake is a food company’s capacity to reduce its product development cycle and increase its ability to scale manufacturing of new products.

Here are some key components you don’t want to miss on your next NPD platform:

  • A portal which provides a single place for marketing product managers and R&D project managers to post and follow-up their requests for new product assays in real time,
  • A collaborative notebook where all assays can be designed and documented, together with all parameters and necessary ingredients and raw materials involved in the production of the final product to be tested,
  • A workflow engine that automates all assay steps and keeps track of all actions and results during the process, ensuring end-to-end traceability of each assay,
  • Needless to say, that workflow engine should be genuinely integrated with an inventory management feature to enable accurate planning and execution of assays, taking into account stocks of consumables and ingredients, 
  • Workflow design capabilities that can be put into the hands of process engineers to adapt existing assay workflows and/or design new workflows without any coding skills,
  • Easily configurable integration capabilities to enable connection with production equipment and external applications and data sources so as to prevent as much as possible manual entries,
  • Mobile access so that data can always be available to engineers and technicians, even when they are on the move in the facilities,
  • One single database centralizing all data and metadata about assays for capitalizing on cumulative experience and knowledge,
  • User-friendly analytics and dashboards.

Key takeaways

  • Due to evolving trends in the food industry, new product development (NPD) is a core competency that food manufacturers must master in order to survive and thrive in the next 30 years.
  • Testing and piloting is a significant portion of NPD process and can become a bottleneck for new product launches if not properly designed and tooled.
  • A modern cloud platform can help turn your NPD testing and piloting capabilities into a competitive advantage.

Want to learn more about our lab management collaborative cloud platform, visit the newLab page here.