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    Mike San Clemente
 Associate Brand Manager, MARS Petcare

    "Being a Product of the Year winner in our category is very important
 because it helps the shopper make a quick decision. When they see our shelf talker among 100 products in the pet food aisle they can quickly identify that only one was named 'Product of the Year' "

    Mike San Clemente
 Associate Brand Manager, MARS Petcare (2010 US Winner)

    Herb Sorensen
 TNS Scientific Advisor

    “Most shoppers are unaware that upon entering a store they are presented with some 50,000 items. About 25,000 of those may constitute 5% the store's sales. For brands, Product of the Year is a huge benefit to getting out of that long tail and rising to the top”

    Herb Sorensen
 TNS Scientific Advisor, Shopper

    "If there’s any award that we’d really like, it would be this one."

    Angie Johnson, Weetabix


    All hail the humble sandwich!

    If you want a prime example of product innovation, you’ll find it in the sandwich aisle. When John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, ordered cold beef between slices of bread to avoid getting up from his card game, he would have had no idea of the culinary masterpiece he was unwittingly launching. Yet nearly 300 years later, the sandwich stands as a cornerstone of global cuisine, possibly the most reinvented dish of all time. If we take the egg and cress on white as the baseline, think how far sandwich makers have stretched the crusty parameters of this lunchtime essential. Now, wraps account for about five per cent of all sarnie sales in major retailers, with hot wraps raising the bar more recently, according to the folk behind British Sandwich Week, which runs until Sunday. Paninis are also gaining in popularity – last year their sales rose by 14 per cent in major retailers, while baguettes account for around at tenth of commercially made sandwiches. But it doesn’t stop there. Flatbreads, ciabattas, bagels, and even croissants can all claim a stake in sandwich sales. Spain has bocadillos. France has the Croque Monsieur. Basically, go anywhere in the world and you’ll find a lip-smacking local version of the international language of sandwich. bread-food-salad-sandwich-largeIn the UK we nibble effortlessly between crustless, doorstop, finger, open and toasted like the true leaders of the sandwich world that we are, munching our way through 11.5 billion sarnies each year. And we are just as free and easy with our fillings, swinging from the delicately simple cucumber sandwich to the in-your-face offerings from somewhere like Subway – now one of the leaders of the sandwich market in the UK – as the mood takes us. Most of the big retailers reinvent their sandwich offerings each year, knowing that public tastes move on. Fortunately this hand-held favourite is robust and can usually cope with whatever innovations are thrown at it. But like so many things in life, there is still a place for simplicity. Sometimes a decent hunk of ham between two thick slices of good, white, buttered bread can taste as delicious as any of your fancier offerings. Chicken is the nation’s favourite filling, according to British Sandwich Week. We’d add half a just ripe avocado, a smear of mayo and a few grinds of black pepper. On granary. What’s your sandwich of choice? Between those slices there’s a lesson for anyone involved with product innovation: the inventions that stand the test of time are the ones that meet a real need. And feel free to tinker all you like, but never lose sight of the simplicity of the original. It may still be the best.

    Doing it for St George!

    When St George was slaying dragons...

    When St George was slaying dragons you’d like to think he’d stoked up on the very best English meat, fish and veg before doing so. In fact he never set foot on English soil, and as for dragons, well…..But, hey, let’s not mess with mythology.st-george Instead, as we celebrate (or at least give a bit of a nod) to the English Patron Saint this week, let’s also celebrate the other champions of our green and pleasant land: our food exporters. With Brexit stealing the headlines in 2016, it’s easy to overlook the fact that our food and drink industry is building bridges between England – ok, Britain – and the rest of the world. Chocolate is our biggest food export, followed by salmon, cheese and beef. Our biscuits have also gone global, along with soft drinks, breakfast cereals, vegetables, chicken, and sauces. And that’s just our top ten food exports, from the Food and Drink Federation. That will come as a surprise to many. Nearly a fifth of British people think our food is unpopular around the world when in fact the sector exports almost £12.8bn of food and non-alcohol drink products a year, three-quarters of which goes to the European Union. What’s even more surprising is we’re excelling at ‘taking coals to Newcastle’ or in this case cheese to France, beer to Belgium and tea to China! In 2014 the UK was the EU’s number one exporter of tea to China, increasing by £6.4m (+2,000%) in 2015. It’s a huge turnaround for a country which has relied on imported tea leaves from that same nation since the 17th century. UK cheese exports have reached an all-time high with sales to the home of fromage, France, up 20% in 2014 (HMRC). And we’re even selling beer by the barrel-load to the Belgians, with sales worth £93 million in 2015, according to Government figures. So England and the other home nations are finally being taken seriously by gourmands worldwide and at last shrugging off their poor reputation for food. Brexit or not, the Europeans are getting a real taste for what our small and large producers have to offer. And even allowing for turbulent political days ahead, that reputation is set to grow with a Great British Food Unit set up by the Government earlier this year with an eye on increasing manufactured food exports to £6 billion by 2020. The long term ambition of the new unit is to match France and Germany, which both currently export more than double the UK in terms of the value of food and drink. We have them in our sights! So whether it’s for St George or our other patron saints, let’s fly the flag for the food innovators from England, Ireland, Scotland and Northern Ireland who are whetting appetites worldwide.

    Imperfection = Innovation

    It’s all going pear-shaped in the veg aisle.

    It’s all going pear-shaped in the veg aisle. Perfect fruit and vegetables are making way for knobbly, blemished varieties ( Asda Wonky Veg Box). They may not look as attractive, but more and more shoppers love them for their pretty price.Open box Although the majority of consumers will always opt for perfect produce, a sizeable minority are now happy to overlook bumps and bruises. But is not-quite-perfect ever going to be enough in other supermarket aisles? In fact the consumer is often more willing to accept not-quite-right than they realise. While millions of pounds of research and development will go into many launches, others – particularly from smaller businesses – may reach the shelves while still a work in progress, and when less money has been spent. But with sobering stats telling us that seven in 10 European product launches fails (Nielsen), lowering the pre-launch development budget sounds counter-intuitive at best, doesn’t it? In fact that could be precisely the reason it’s worth a shot. Hitting the shelves pre-perfection gives brave manufacturers the real feedback they seek while there is still some budget available to make changes. Take Nike trainers. Imperfect launches over decades – famously via a waffle iron - eventually shaped retail and sporting history. The first (second and third…) shoes made by the company’s co-founder Bill Bowerman weren’t pretty but they allowed Bill and colleagues to learn what makes the ideal running shoe and ultimately turn their efforts into a global empire. We recently read about Paul Graham, an American entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, whose business helps fund start-ups to get off the ground with small budgets. There have obviously been many of those projects that have fallen by the wayside, but the success of others such as Dropbox and Airbnb, which have gone on to raise millions more in funding, speaks for itself. “Launching helps you find out how you suck,” the entrepreneur said, “Until you launch, you might suck, but you won’t know why.” Turning ‘sucking’ into succeeding is where start-ups often lead the way. Most products launched by fledgling companies are prototypes with a tiny development budget. Every launch is a risk – that could become a huge success. Big companies are less likely to test the water in this way. Many don’t want to rock the boat with customers, knowing that forcing customers to step out of their comfort zone can have disastrous consequences. But fortune favours the brave, and taking risks can also reap big rewards. Being open to less-than-perfect leads to experimentation – the key to all innovation. So next time you see a knobbly carrot or bruised apple, look on it fondly. Customers are getting more comfortable with imperfection which might ultimately lead to perfect opportunities to innovate.

    Is Nostalgia the Enemy of Innovation?

    Stroll back down memory lane and remember a time when every child thought Tony the Tiger was ‘Grrreat!’ Reaching down to find the toy at the bottom of a newly opened box of Shreddies was like winning Olympic Gold. And the stories and games on the back of the cereal box could easily keep you occupied through a week’s worth of breakfast. Don’t get me started on the joy of piling sugar on top of the sweet cereal until the milk reached optimum teeth-rotting potential. It was the 70s and 80s, after all. Ah, those were the days. Breakfast cereal is the ultimate nostalgia food. No wonder half of baby boomers say the cereals they loved as children remain their favourites today*. But in recent years the market has lost a little of its crunch. Millennials have ripped up the breakfast rule book, and the struggle to get to grips with their demands, coupled with our on-the-go lifestyles and increasing resistance to carbs and sugar, has thrown a whole heap of tricky challenges to cereal manufacturers. But that’s where innovation comes into its own. Rising to meet those different demands is bringing about exciting changes in the cereal aisle and the customer is being treated to more choice than ever before. There’s no doubt breakfast has changed. Nowadays we’re more likely to eat on the go rather than sitting at the table with a bowl and spoon. Plus we want our breakfast to deliver more on the nutrition front too, with higher protein and lower sugar and carbs. And the choice out there is huge - once we would have been happy to feast on toast and cereal, now we can choose breakfast bars, yoghurt, pastries or pots-to-go. But rather than seeing these challenges as obstacles, the likes of Nestle, Kellogg’s, Quaker and Jordans have stepped up to the mark and are making the most of the growing opportunities out there. We’ve seen it over successive years at Product of the Year. This year’s winners Weetabix Protein Crunch and Jordan’s Lighter Granola show how cereal makers are listening to what they consumer want and innovating accordingly. Last year’s Weetabix On the Go drink was a huge hit, taking cereals out of memory lane and putting them on the fast-track to meet future demand. This is where innovation really comes into its own and it is what gets us at Product of the Year HQ excited. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but it is the enemy of innovation. It’s great to see how ready-to-eat cereals are truly thinking outside the box. *Mintel 2015

    Product of the Year goes Global

    Far from being just a British ‘thing’, Product of the Year operates in over 40 countries across the globe

    February has all been about spreading the Product of the Year love across the globe.POY-Map Far from being just a British ‘thing’, Product of the Year began in France 29 years ago and now operates in over 40 countries across the globe, with new nations wanting to join up every year. After the UK awards in January, the last four weeks have seen Product of the Year celebrations in the USA, Belgium (including the Netherlands and Luxembourg), Australia and South Africa (where McCain call their chips Slap Chips!). In March it’s the turn of Canada’s and India’s manufacturers to take to the stage. The awards are a fascinating insight into shopping habits around the globe (and a brilliant chance to gawp at international award-show outfits to boot!) While some products – laundry detergent, for example – are bought pretty much everywhere, others are particular to the culture of a particular country, like recent Benelux winner, the Lillet aperitif, a blend of wine and liqueur (although we wouldn’t mind some of that too!). Australia is where retailers really seem to be stepping up to the mark. There Aldi won 12 of the 46 categories and they and other leading supermarkets accounted for half of the haul on the night. America is where British eyes turn to see what products may soon arrive on our shelves. There, noticeable trends emerge each year and managing director Rich Fryling reckons there are four key areas set to grow over the next 12 months: Premium pet care, sustainable launches, all-in-one products (especially beauty) and at-home beauty devices. Sales in that last category soared 14% in 2014 and with the Amope Pedi Perfect Electric Foot File with Diamond Crystals winning a US Product of the Year award a few weeks ago, we in the UK can expect a surge in similar at-home beauty launches. No matter where the awards take place the objective is the same – to help consumers find the very best products in a crowded market, and to reward the manufacturers who keep pushing at the boundaries to bring us all that little something extra. Spread the love and tell us the products that make your heart sing!

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