How to bring a new product to market

Getting a new seasonal turkey product to market is a painstaking process, requiring great attention to detail and a high degree of risk.


“It starts the week before Christmas,” says Mark Gorton, founder and director of Traditional Norfolk Poultry, which supplies poultry products to retailers and food service companies across the country. “We and our competitors have put all of our products into the supermarkets, so we go round and look at what’s out there.”


This provides crucial information on what’s happening: are consumers shifting from whole birds to crowns? What sizes are people after? What packaging formats are working?


Based on this information, the development team at Traditional Norfolk Poultry identifies what kind of product they want to develop for next year’s market.


For 2011 this was a free-range turkey breast joint, with a roast chestnut stuffing, wrapped in bacon.


“Once we’ve picked the product we want to develop, the next stage is to approach the retailer,” says Mr Gorton. “You’ve got to already have the relationship, because if you haven’t, it’s very difficult to just phone up the buyer and ask to go in and see them.


“We sit down with the buyer and say ‘this is where the gap is, this is the product’. We’ll kick it around a bit, take it into the development kitchen, cook it up, taste it.


“Issues around pricing and sales volumes are also decided at this early stage. Hopefully, we will get the thumbs up – and that’s when the work really starts.


“The first thing is to draw up the specification. What type of bacon do we need? Organic or rare breed? Outdoor reared or indoor reared? Smoked or unsmoked? How much visual lean should there be? How big should the strips be? How many strips? And that’s just for the bacon.”


Similar decisions have to be made for the stuffing and the trimmings, right down to the piece of rosemary that sits on top. “We submit this all back to the supermarket, to get it agreed,” says Mr Gorton.


“This year, we got more ‘off’ complaints than normal because it was so mild and people were still putting their turkeys in the garage. We’ve also seen more professional complainers taking advantage of ‘no quibble’ guarantees. If that happens, we get penalised – it’s quite a risk.”
Mark Gorton

The next stage is to take it out to customer panels. “A lot of supermarkets have stores with their own kitchens where you can try stuff out on the general public. We get real customer feedback.


“We then have to put it to a naming panel. We get together with the new product development team and the technical managers and decide what we’re going to call it.


“Then we have to check with the retailer’s legal team that we’re allowed to call it what we want to call it. If it’s got more stuffing than bacon we can’t call it a breast roast with bacon and stuffing – legally it has to be the other way round.”


The next stage is to verify the cooking times – both for fan assisted and non-fan assisted ovens – and nutrition levels. “We have to send it away to get all the saturated and unsaturated fat contents analysed, so we can stand behind what we’re saying on the packs.


“We also have to check the shelf-life. And we might also have to send it away to professional bodies to do blind tastings.”


Allergens


One word that strikes fear into any technical manager is allergens, adds Mr Gorton. “Our product has chestnut stuffing. But it turns out that chestnut isn’t a nut, it’s a fruit. So we only have to put on the packaging that it’s produced in a factory that could contain nuts.”


But there are other allergens to consider, such as gluten and sulphites, and the company has to produce HACCPs and flow charts to minimise the risk of cross-contamination. “It’s a big thing and something you can’t take too lightly.”


Then there is the artwork. As it’s an “own brand”, the retailer designs the packs, but it is still up to the supplier to proof read it and make sure it all stands up. “Everything from font sizes, to positioning of decimal points and logos, we have to check,” says Mr Gorton. “Once we’ve signed it off, it’s our responsibility.”


Ordering the packaging and boxing material is a summer task for a Christmas product. “Everybody is getting their orders in then and there may be a 12-week lead time. If you take delivery and it’s wrong, you might need another 12 weeks.”


Another key task is to check all the barcodes work at the supermarket checkout. “We have to take every single connotation into a supermarket to check it. If they don’t scan, we don’t get any data and we might not even get paid.”


As Christmas approaches, the emphasis switches to gearing the factory up to produce the product. Staffing is crucial, including auditing the employment agencies, and organising training and induction days. Cold storage also has to be rented and audited.


“We’re now getting pretty close to actually making the product. We talk to the supply chain manager to discuss which stores we think the product will sell best in. Then we do a pre-production trial, mocking it all up for the supermarket’s technical manager. There are lots of elements and they must be satisfied that the systems we have actually work.


TNP turkeys


Production run


“Then the big day comes. We take products out of the first production run and send them down to the head office. Even at this stage it could still be pulled. If they taste it and something has gone wrong, they can say ‘stop’.


“At this stage, we still haven’t technically got an order, even though we’ve been working all year and, by mid-December, have made the product. We have to wait for the official order and order numbers to come though.


“It’s amazing how often the orders come through wrong. They may come through for half of what you’d agreed, or double – the grey hairs start to come quite quickly.


“Once we’ve got our order number, we can invoice the supermarket and dispatch the product. But that’s not the end of it. We then go out into the store to make sure it looks right, that it’s on the right, predetermined place on the shelf. The last thing we want is for our product not to sell because it’s been put in the fish counter.


“That’s it – apart from what happens after Christmas with all the post-mortems.


“This year, we got more ‘off’ complaints than normal because it was so mild and people were still putting their turkeys in the garage. We’ve also seen more professional complainers taking advantage of ‘no quibble’ guarantees. If that happens, we get penalised – it’s quite a risk.”

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