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Trend Watch: A successful launch meets everyone’s needs

Product development is much more than flavor and packaging decisions

Bistro Fresh microwaveable meals cover all the bases
    convenience, foolproof cooking technology, smart packaging and,
    of course, great flavor. - Photo courtesy of Bistro Fresh
By Lauren Kramer
August 01, 2006

If your company is considering launching a new seafood product in the next few months, you're far from alone. More than 33,000 new products are launched each year, nearly 15,000 of them food items, according to Productscan Online data for 2004. And 75 to 90 percent of them fail.

"Companies have to realize that the shelves are not empty," says Pat Shanahan, a seafood-marketing consultant who runs the Seafood Prix d'Elite at the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels and the New Products Competition at the Inter­national Boston Seafood Show. "A new product has to displace something that's already there, has to offer something better, or be so new and different a buyer will want to take a chance and offer it to customers."

A retail product has only seconds to make a lasting impact on a shopper's consciousness, says Joan Schnei­der, president of Schneider & Assoc­iates in Boston and author of the 2005 book "New Product Launch: 10 Proven Strategies."

"Procter & Gamble has done research that shows people make a decision to buy in between five and seven seconds," says Schneider. "That's your window of opportunity to make an impact. If your product looks the same as everyone else's, you're really missing that opportunity."

One of the problems in the seafood industry is that seafood companies are developing products without knowing what retailers and operators really want, says Shanahan.

"They think they know, but they don't actually ask the buyers, find out what's missing and which consumers they're trying to reach. Those are key questions, but the buyers I've talked to say they don't get asked those questions very often."

Another problem is that seafood producers aren't developing innovative products.

"Seafood manufacturers don't want to take a bold stand on flavors," says Andrew Wilkinson, executive chef and partner at Skipjack's Seafood Restaurants in Boston. "I think it's important to develop products that will attract people to seafood while using bold, international-style flavors that go great with seafood. We need pro­ducts that will make people say, 'Wow, I didn't think I liked seafood, but I was wrong, I do!'"

There are five questions every company should ask before launching a new product, says Schneider.

1. Does this product do something new and innovative?

2. Does it make users' lives simpler or more enjoyable?

3. Does it empower its users?

4. Does it tie in with current trends?

5. Why should anyone buy it now?

"Most companies tend not to put their product in the broader context, which makes it really hard to stand out," Schneider says.

"For example, in the consumer market, the health-and-wellness category is really important as a trend, and fish fits right in. Organics, portability, convenience and nutrition are all important. You have to think about what broader trends your product fits into, and how you'll capitalize on those."

One of the winning products at the Boston product competition, the Bistro Fresh Kashmiri Curry Salmon with Rice and Vegetables, had all these bases covered.

"You cook it in the microwave for four minutes, and it has a steam valve that lets out just the right amount of steam," says Shanahan. "The technology didn't just sound good - it worked. So you had a fresh meal with a clean-ingredients list ready in under four minutes, and it was delicious. It really delivered on all of its promises and was new for the U.S. market. When you get a good product like this, it stands head and shoulders above the others."

Bistro Fresh of Camden, Maine, started in October 2004, launching its first products 18 months later.

"We first saw the Kashmiri Salmon product in Europe," says Steve Young, company president. "One of the companies I'd worked with had a license for the steam-valve technology in Europe. The minute I saw it, I felt it was something I needed to translate and bring over to the United States."

The company now has 20 SKUs and offers a full spectrum of retail entrées, including seafood, chicken, vegetarian and pork, all featuring the steam-valve technology. Bistro Fresh supplies meals under private label to retailers like Hannaford Bros., headquartered in Scarborough, Maine.

"The reception from consumers has been great," says Young. "They're using our products exactly as we hoped they would: for lunches and for those evening meals when they're too busy to cook but still want something quality that's better than frozen and better than takeout."

Wilkinson, who was one of three judges at the Boston product competition, agrees that the Kashmiri Curry Salmon was "a very, very good product that emphasizes the positive, healthy attributes of seafood. There are very few choices for retail customers in this respect," he says. "But this product is a great alternative to the breaded, fried selection of seafood [products] typically available."

The difference between the winners and the losers at the competitions Shanahan organizes and adjudicates is that the winners get everything right, not just one aspect of the product.

"I've seen products that tasted fabulous, but their packaging was all wrong, or their pricing wasn't going to work for the target market," she says. "It's really important to ensure you've addressed all the aspects a buyer will be looking for, and not just the product and its taste profile. For example, does the packaging add value? Have you chosen the right target market? And is your product something that's really new?"

The bottom line is that when it comes to preparing seafood at home, people are afraid. "They're scared it will smell and won't taste as good as it does in a restaurant," Wilkinson explains. Schneider agrees that this is a problem, but it's also an opportunity for seafood suppliers and producers to educate customers about their product.

"All the fish looks the same at the fish counter; there's nothing that differentiates one product from the next, and no educational material," she says. "Point out the features and benefits and provide information so consumers can make an informed choice. Provide recipes, organize culinary demonstrations and focus on education," she advises.

"Eighty-one percent of consumers are likely to buy a product they've sampled, but I don't remember ever sampling a fish product in my life. You have to create excitement about your product and educate your buyers so they'll try it and then buy it."

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia


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