Protein pioneer Lizanne Falsetto founded the revolutionary nutrition bar think!® and is the current CEO & Founder of betterland foods™.
Since selling my company in 2015, I am often asked how to bring a new product to market. Just because you develop a formula for an industry-disrupting new product doesn’t mean you’ll be able to bring it to market immediately.
Of course, the specificities of each field can lead to differences in how a particular product is marketed, but my favorite to cite and expand upon is the protein industry. For example, a process called precision fermentation is changing the food industry by producing nutritious whey protein without the use of animals, using fermentation to engineer microorganisms to produce specific proteins. The process has already been in use for decades for the production of products including insulin and cheese. Precision fermentation, as an alternative, can create sustainable proteins that are efficient and environmentally friendly. So why hasn’t this technology gained traction yet? That’s where market factors come into play.
Here are a few common hurdles for bringing a product to market—and how to overcome them:
The general public’s lack of knowledge about a solution or technology can be a major barrier to adoption (and to retailers being interested enough to purchase). Education can help consumers understand the benefits of your solution and how it can improve their lives or the industry.
A confused mind will not purchase. Educate the retail buyers you speak to on the importance of your innovations and how they will not only help consumers, but be demanded by them. For example, in the ’90s, I had people telling me to take “gluten free” off my packaging, but I stuck to my message in the face of this criticism. I talked about gluten and how it reacts in the body, as well as with other allergens—not just to consumers, but to retail buyers.
2. Access To Funding
New founders often face additional challenges in bringing their products to retail shelves, including access to sufficient funding. Without adequate funding, it can be immensely challenging to develop and commercialize new products. I recommend that entrepreneurs explore various funding options such as venture capital, crowdfunding and grants in order to overcome this hurdle.
Start with your network and expand outward—and don’t be afraid to look overseas, either, for investment. Just because the local economy is finicky and investors are leery at home doesn’t mean you can’t find investors in other countries who believe in you and your product. Do, however, be careful where you upload your content such as your funding deck. The competition is fierce in the food space and many other industries. Protect your IP as much as possible.
3. Exhaustive Research And Development (R&D)
Founders must conduct market research to identify their product’s target audience and to understand their needs. It may seem overwhelming to figure out your direction, but keep these straightforward steps in mind: Define the problem or opportunity. Develop your marketing plan. Collect data and analyze it, and then implement your plan.
For example, there are apps now that you can use when you’re shopping to scan the items on the shelves and learn more about the ingredients inside them. Those in the food industry can check out your competitors and see what ingredients and production methods they are using.
In addition, it’s essential to develop and test a prototype with potential consumers and collaborate with regulatory bodies to ensure that the products meet required safety and quality standards.
Once the product is refined, it’s time to launch it in the market and start building brand awareness. Keep in mind the trends on current consumer demands, such as sustainability and fair trade. Catering to those tastes can help you find your niche.
4. Proper Distribution Channels
Having a solid distribution strategy in place to get your product in front of the target audience is crucial. You’ll want to understand the different categories of retailers, such as natural, drug, convenience, club, etc. Each are going to have different buyers, size requirements, pricing models and levels of understanding around your niche. For instance, you might not go to a Costco buyer with the same product you would to a Sprouts buyer. (Disclosure: My company works with Costco and Sprouts.) Your decisions here will impact your margin and the exact steps you will need to take to distribute.
In addition, you do also have the option to avoid retail entirely. You might pursue other angles, such as partnering with hotels or restaurants, or just try to launch D2C online using your own website or an affiliate channel such as Amazon. (Disclosure: Amazon was a supplier for my company.) Make sure to thoroughly research your options to determine overhead costs, margins and your cost of acquisition.
Keep in mind that any time you invent something new and try to share it with the world, you could invite detractors and critics. I’ve had detractors try to spread misinformation campaigns around the innovations I have brought to the table, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that often the voices at the root of misinformation are the ones who stand to benefit financially if your solution fails.
There are a few different ways I recommend reacting. First, keep your messaging consistent. Treat pushback as an opportunity to educate others about the truth—as well as an opportunity to learn more yourself. Also, get curious about the mindsets of your opposition: Why do they have this negative opinion of your product? Are you being too elaborate in your communication? Are they even your ideal customer? Do they have valid concerns you need to address? Your answers to these questions will help you move forward.
Even products and practices that are as unequivocally beneficial and as useful as possible can have trouble finding the right audience and consumer base. New founders also face additional challenges, but with the right strategies and collaborations, entrepreneurs can succeed in bringing their products to retail shelves.
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