How can a Minimum Viable Product approach work in food innovation

My interpretation of a Minimum Viable Product(MVP). A MVP is a prototype that requires the least possible effort, the smallest financial expenditure and the smallest production run required to produce a stimulus that is adequate to test a specific assumption about a new market or new product.

A minimum viable product gets enough polish so that testers have a realistic experience. But not so much polish that it could be launched tomorrow.

For example, if you are launching a new Berry infused chocolate bar, you might test the assumption 'I have the perfect flavour intensity for the berry note'. To do so, you wouldn't spend much time on perfecting the shape or weight of the finished good, just the flavour intensity.

We all know the tech space is comfortable launching beta versions of new software, getting their MVP out there and testing the consumer appeal for these products. How well does the food industry do?

From my experience, we aren't great at this, but we are getting better. When I first started work at Uncle Tobys (many moons ago) we show our products for consumer feedback, worried that someone might steal our idea. Instead we'd have the R&D team perfect a product before going to full scale consumer testing with 200 consumers, essentially crossing our fingers that somehow we'd got lucky and fluked a product that consumers actually liked.

Now my approach has changed. Most big questions in an NPD process could benefit from some form of consumer input. Using the cycle of:

  1. Here is an idea,
  2. Lets quickly test it in a small group with a bench top sample.
  3. How'd it go, what did they think,
  4. Do we continue to perfect this product or pivot to another new opportunity.

Too few companies allow the R&D team to run the development of new products, but this is a topic for another day. Often R&D teams are eager to change if it is based on data, not on a whim. The look to improve their products and most keen to rise to the challenge of creating products that are successful on shelf. This kind of thinking would fir perfectly with a MVP approach, a great addition to their current processes.

Here is how it could flow:

Goal - Launch a new moulded Chocolate with a soft filling
Assumption 1 - Consumers want a dark chocolate. Prototype. Test. Learn.
Assumption 2 - Consumers want this snack to be healthy. Ask them.
Assumption 3 - Consumer want a fruit flavoured filling. Are you sure, ask them, present samples, is it too sweet?
Assumption 4 - Consumers want this to be a single bite serve. How big is too big? Or to small?
Assumption 5 - Consumers love sea shell shaped moulded chocolates. Why not other animals or plants or geometric shapes?

By breaking the overall goal into smaller assumptions, these can then be quickly tested. Unconventional testing methods are available for testing flavour, fit to concept and liking of specific product components - just ask you Consumer Insight team.

Get your developer on board early. As the testing uncovers new learnings, product developers can roll these learnings into subsequent formulations. These learnings start to form the building blocks of the product, defining the product as you go, solidifying product attributes that become non negotiable - because it is what the consumer wants. How do we know? We've asked them.

From my perspective, this iterative, MVP approach to product development makes a lot more sense that plucking an idea out of thin air, spending hours formulating in the lab, scaling up once the CEO or Sales Manager likes the flavour of it, barging in on production time to run a trial and then heading to Consumer Testing with your fingers crossed....

Listening to your consumer

megaphone-hearing-787265 What guides product development at your business? Continual consumer feedback loops, gut feel or the taste preference of senior management?

Many businesses believe they are consumer guided, but without specific effort and know-how, it's easy to skip the part where you ask for consumer input. Here are two examples of companies taking the initiative to remain consumer-centric: In all the important meetings at, founder Jeff Bezos insists upon having an empty chair present to represent the consumer or 'the most important person in the room'.

Zara: This fashion retailer uses its store managers to gather data each day from its shoppers by asking questions such as 'What colour should we do this in next?' and 'Is the skirt long enough?' This constant feedback loop has limited Zara's failed product introductions to 1% (the industry average sits around 10%).

Testing your new products with consumers is the best way to hear honest feedback and make meaningful alterations. It used to be a costly, labour intense undertaking but not anymore! Rapid Profiling, and other consumer sensory techniques are available from Radar Insight to enure you're launching products that consumers want.

(Examples sourced from

Spike - perfect for shooting food commercials.

Ever wondered how food commercials capture the magical images of two tomatoes smashing into each other, the slow motion splash made by a hazelnut being dropped into a pool of chocolate or the speeding cork as it ejects from a bottle of champagne?

The answer is simple - precision, repitition, robotics and a high speed camera named Spike.

The Marmalade is a creative agency based in Hamburg, Germany who specialise in high end special effects for commercials. They have put this short video together to show how they shoot their commercials and when I stumble across it, I knew it would be worth sharing with anyone who appreciates food.

The Marmalde - Spike and High Speed Food Photography [VIDEO - 6 mins]

This team spend hours building rigs and robots that can consistently pour in, pour out, flick, splash or spin food products and props. All this work is done to capture on film a fraction of second of action on high speed camera.

Once the desired motion of the food has been achieved (flinging together two tomatoes), a highly maneuverable, high speed camera - 1000 frames per second - nicknamed Spike is programmed to record the exact moment of impact, splash or shatter or swiftly move down the glass as the beer is poured. This split second of action, slowed down ten times displays an artistic angle on everyday food and beverages that you wouldn't even realised occurs.

For a new perspective on food photography and cinematography and the advances being made by some of the leading companies in the world, have a look at the Marmalade's high speed photography video:

The Marmalde - Spike and High Speed Food Photography

And for more examples of their work be sure to check out their gallery.


Video and images used with the kind permission of: