Big can be beautiful

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June 12, 2017

by Mat Lintern



​We think that the world’s biggest CPG manufacturers could do better to defend against guerrilla attacks from highly driven start-ups.


In our colourful world of fast moving consumer goods, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s the little guys that hold all the momentum surrounding product innovation.

In recent times, successful launches appear to be emerging more from the smaller players, or even start-ups. These operators appear better at identifying a discerning consumer need, delivering a more engaging experience and relating a sense of purpose that pierces the consciousness of millennial-minded consumers. They also appear to be a dab-hand at commanding a premium!

Think Fever Tree, Cold Press, Higgidy, Pukka Tea and Seedlip. Go back a while and you could include the likes of Red Bull, Kettle Chips, Ella’s Kitchen, Green & Blacks and Bulldog.

We’ve witnessed the entrepreneurial zeal that drives many of these smaller operators to apparent success. Their sheer determination and commitment to their business idea is hugely inspiring. It is our belief that the world’s biggest CPG manufacturers could do better to defend against guerrilla attacks from such highly driven start-ups. In a world where mental and physical availability is apparently proven to deliver higher sales, surely the big-boys could be using their marketing and distribution muscle to leverage the potential of focused NPD more aggressively?

Working with most of today’s majors, we can attest to the fact that there’s no shortage of creativity, skill or energy within these huge organisations. But all too often we see potentially great ideas get watered down as they progress through the NPD process – usually because of a corporate culture and/or retailer rhetoric that refuses to allow an idea to take the time it needs to develop in the market.


There is a clear and present danger that lateral savings sucked out of product or pack prototypes annihilate that ‘last 5%’, which might have made all the difference to today’s aspirational consumer.


The expectation of most big players is still one of instant ‘big bang’ success - something that’s increasingly uncommon, as proven by many of today’s smaller, slower-burn success stories. Moreover, with a marketing mantra increasingly about ‘reach’ over ‘segmentation’, we’re expecting an increase in ‘sanitised’ NPD that attempts to maximise breadth of appeal, but ultimately loses that ‘highly tuned edginess’ that got people excited about in the first place.

For reasons well documented elsewhere, the pressure for NPD to be margin-enhancing frequently dictates cost-savings as the idea hits the latter stages of prototyping. There is a clear and present danger that lateral savings sucked out of product or pack prototypes annihilate that ‘last 5%’, which might have made all the difference to today’s aspirational consumer.

But all is not lost. Many larger clients are turning to incubation teams or external resource to bring a different perspective to their NPD process. This can only be a good thing. It nudges the world’s biggest players to think more like start-ups - to create and remain true to more interesting, more targeted, more purposeful propositions. It changes expectations from retailers around the role the product plays in the category.

This summer sees the launch of ‘Off The Beaten Path’ Vegetable Crisps in the U.K (already growing in the U.S.) This beautifully executed and pithy brand is actually from the PEPSICO stable. It demonstrates that the big boys can leverage their inherent advantages to get truly great innovation into the market. It remains to be seen whether PEPSICO will launch ‘all guns blazing’ (Walkers Sensations style) or choose the ‘slow burn’ route (as Kettle Chips did). Either way, this innovation demonstrates that ‘cool’ and ‘belief driven’ isn’t restricted to the craft-oriented entrepreneurs of Shoreditch.  

Mat Lintern is Global CEO at MMR Research Worldwide