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....