How General Mills' in-store product testing could drive faster, smarter NPD

By Douglas Yu contact

- Last updated on GMT

In-store sampling may help manufacturers better understand consumer tastes. Photo: iStock - geotrac
In-store sampling may help manufacturers better understand consumer tastes. Photo: iStock - geotrac

Related tags: General mills, Marketing

A new approach to product development by General Mills – testing foods directly with consumers in store - reflects how important the ‘voice of the crowd’ has become, according to a leading analyst.

The Fiber One and Nature Valley owner has recently trialed a bean-based snacking product with shoppers in a US grocery store, according to a report in Marketplac​e. General Mills has declined to comment on the sampling activity, which was described as unique for a major manufacturer by Mintel analyst Lynn Dornblaser.

Collective intelligence

She said the in-store approach reflected the trend of “collective intelligence”,​ adding that getting closer to consumers and better understanding their interests could lead to more successful product development.

“It is about how the voice of the crowd is being heard and heeded more than ever before,” ​she told BakeryandSnacks. “Consumers today are more involved in every way possible.

“In some areas and with some companies, the product development process no longer happens from the top down… it is much more of a two-way street. General Mills’ sampling program is a clear illustration of that point.”

Faster and cheaper NPD

In-store sampling could also help companies get products to market faster and more cheaply, suggested Dornblaser, adding that a large company such as General Mills faced challenges in developing niche products to compete with smaller companies who could react more quickly to changing consumer tastes.

“Perhaps the best way a large company can address those ever-changing preferences would be to have a program of limited-edition or short-run products,” ​she said. “For example, they could be on the front edge of the trend with snack nuts that are bacon flavor for a certain number of months, and then switch to Korean BBQ flavor, and then to Peruvian, or something else that is trending.”

“That’s what smaller companies do every day and what, quite often, the largest companies are unable to do,”​ Dornblaser added.

Delicate balancing act

But getting feedback from consumers should be a “delicate balancing act,”​ she warned. “It could be easy for some companies to get lost in an endless loop of getting feedback, tinkering with the product, and then getting more feedback.”

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