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Familiar with a Twist – Why differentiation is important to sales success!

If I were to ask you what the most important attribute of the product you are developing is what would you say?  Now if I asked your customer that question, would the answer line up?  Knowing your point of differentiation is key to creating world class menu items that set your products up for success, whether you are working for a brand that sells to consumers, or working for a supplier that sells to those brands.

At a recent meeting with one of my clients, we were reviewing new concepts to show major beverage chains.  It reminded me how important the fundamentals of product development, menu strategy, and differentiation are so important.  They apply every time I’ve been a part of a successful launch, and I thought I’d share them in today’s blog.

My client hired a well-known culinary service to help create the concepts, and my company came in a bit later to help develop the sales strategy and accelerate their sales plan.  Culinary services tend to use a pretty standard process for concept development where they learn about your products and goals, and create a variety of white paper concepts directed towards your ideal clients for you to review.  We received concepts from a talented young chef on a variety of flavors.  They were really interesting concepts, and many had a series of ingredients that were very trend forward.  This can be really exciting for those of us who are chefs, foodies, or trend hunters, but when we’re trying to sell to bigger chains, overdoing it with too many trendy ingredients can be something that is a detriment.  Additionally, we wanted our clients ingredients to be the center of attention.

So we reviewed the concepts and gave feedback that we needed to tweak the concepts for a menu strategy that is more of “familiar with a twist”.  Let me give you an example that will help illustrate familiar with a twist - from 8 years ago! In 2012 Jack in the Box 

developed a bacon milkshake. 

You read that right – bacon milkshake.  What is your response to that?  If you get excited, like many people do about anything with bacon, you might feel that is the right amount of “twist” to the familiar milkshake.  Although, if you had a negative initial reaction, which some people did, it was too much of a twist.  So the key is to have something familiar, and create enough of a twist without turning people away.

This will also vary based on brand and consumer.  A concept created for a value brand, with a value focused customer is going to have a very different look for that brand’s “familiar with a twist” than say an emerging, trendy fast casual health focused brand.  A great product developer knows this, and understands the brand lens as they create items and apply trending concepts or ideas to their familiar products.

The culinary service ended up tweaking our white paper concepts, and three weeks later we were all in a room together tasting the concepts.  Our culinarian had done a fantastic job of incorporating the feedback to make our client’s products the center of attention in the beverages being developed.  

During the tasting, another fundamental of product development came up.  Two of the tasters were really averse to products that were too sweet.  Well I can tell you from years of experience working at Dunkin’, developing products and incorporating consumer research is that you have to have the consumer voice in the process.  While it is important to create products with responsible nutrition, invariably consumers are going to tell you that they want products that are sweeter than you may think.  Now I’m not saying you should load your products with sugar, quite the opposite in fact.  Just the right amount of sweetness is key depending on your target, and no more than that is needed.  In this case, the products were not sweet enough, and we were using real fruit to get there, so perhaps we will just flip the ratio of fruit with another ingredient like tea to slightly bump the sweetness up.  The entire point here is that if we developed products using only the palates of the two people who were “sweet-averse”, we would be failing before we got out of the gate, and not thinking of who our customer is.

Lastly, we thought about how these products would fit on the menu.   We reviewed our target clients menus and discussed menu segmentation.  Where would our concepts fit and why? Some concepts were about refreshment, others were more about functionality, for example a protein beverage.   Still others could be considered more of a wellness beverage, and others could just be as a treat or reward.  If you are a vendor, it’s extremely important to know how the brand or customer looks at their own menu, and how your products and concepts fit within that strategy.  The last thing you want to do is present a concept that isn’t relevant or fits only in the most remote part of their product offering.

It ended up being a great meeting with great tasting concepts, and the client is very excited to get in front of brands to show their products.   Our discussion and focus on the fundamentals of “familiar with a twist” for differentiation, knowing the consumer, and knowing the target customer menu strategy helped us really create a line of products that we think will benefit our potential customers.  


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