The Food & Beverage industry needs innovation processes that are scalable, repeatable and less painful for their employees
Anybody who’s just a little bit familiar with the Food & Beverage industry knows: product launches and updates are no easy feat. In fact, they require some of most specialist skills I’ve seen in any industry, which include:
- Orchestrating a hugely intricate project (there are lots of moving parts that refuse to be nailed down until the very end)
- Bringing in the right mix of specialist expertise (lots of different departments – Innovation, Finance, Marketing, Production, Packaging, Legal, Compliance, etc – need to add their very own bit of knowledge and experience at just the right moment)
- Coordinating external suppliers (e.g. for ingredients, lab analyses, design, artwork, packaging, printing, etc)
- Remaining calm under enormous pressures (of looming print deadlines, range review windows, and scheduled production runs – in the face of constantly changing circumstances)
Are you aware how hard your people have it?
If your business has managed to assemble a team that knows how to do all of the above – then you’ve got a reasonable shot at successful, industry-compliant, and profitable innovation.
But businesses often fail to acknowledge what a big deal this is. Having worked with dozens of Food & Beverage manufacturers, I’ve seen it over and over again:
Product development processes need fixing for good
There are two things I need to say about this. The first is that there’s a much, much better way (This is something I’ll talk more about in my next post. Stay tuned.).
The second is that continuing with the old way of working is madness, for lots of reasons – time, cost, risk, customer experience, and employee satisfaction being just a few of them.
If we take a closer look at the extreme effort it takes to put a new product on the shelf, I’d argue that it’s a bleeding miracle that we don’t hear about more product recalls, collapsing manufacturers, and damaged reputations. Here’s what I mean by that:
The process is inefficient. In Food & Beverage, everybody works in their own bubble. While some departments have specialised digital systems (LAM, PLM, PIM, etc.), these are usually not set up to talk to each other – which means their digital capabilities remain un- or underused. That creates an environment of endless manual copying and pasting, and emailing of information. And that introduces the risk of information that gets missed, a lack of version control, and loads of human errors and inconsistencies. But it’s also a terrible use of your highly qualified team’s time (we regularly hear that up to 40% of people’s hours go into duplicate admin!). That translates into long lead times and a ton of money that businesses really can’t afford to waste.
It’s opaque. Because these systems are disconnected and don’t work together, there’s no central visibility of the project status for project managers or key stakeholders. But that’s really important for an efficient project, since NPD, production, packaging, and compliance processes are so interdependent. None can happen without the others. Again, that means delays, and a risk of your project missing some essential input or approval step. In the worst case, it can create a work atmosphere of panic and fear (or even a blame culture).
It’s not made for agility – product information or other elements tend to change many times before they’re finalised – that’s just part of the game. But it puts a huge burden on the launch team to keep track of the latest changes manually, and make sure everything has been checked and approved. Given the many people and functions involved, that’s almost not humanly possible. And it tends to make everybody involved very nervous – not just your compliance team.
The risk of human error is huge. A mistake (e.g. a mislabelled product) could seriously endanger consumers and/or cause enormous recall costs or fines. Your team is painfully aware of that and puts in extra manual checks to make up for potentially unsafe workflows – and keep your customers, and your business, out of danger. But it’s not a sustainable or scalable strategy.
The Food & Beverage product launch process
This is a simplified model of a product launch or update. You can see: it’s far from straightforward. Having to handle it manually puts enormous strain on the team involved.
A burnt-out team should not be the price of doing business.
All of this is to say: if you’re still in business, you’ve got an extremely hardworking team to thank for that. They manage all this complexity by hand, and help you meet deadlines, over and over again.
But it’s not a sustainable approach to scalable, repeatable, cost-efficient, and safe business operations. Fixing this process makes sense for your business. It will speed up and de-risk product development. But more importantly, it’ll give your hardworking experts time to breathe, and focus on innovating within their actual jobs – and that can only be a good thing for your entire organisation.
We’ve helped dozens of Food & Beverage businesses improve their product development and management process by connecting the functional silos involved in a product. And we’ve put the best things we’ve learned into an ebook called “End-to-end product management”