Tuesday 18 September 2012

THE IMPORTANCE OF MARKET RESEARCH: Sustainable Competitive Advantage in the Food Industry

-Team IP Dome* 

Understanding trends in the market including what your customer is buying today and what he is going to look for on the shelves tomorrow, what the condition of her health is today – and given her food and health preferences - what her health condition will be ten years from now; and also what their children are eating today during their snack time and what would attract that peer group five years from now, could decide whether your company is going to last through the transition or not.

The importance of market research in identifying research focus and IP portfolio construction cannot be over-emphasised; neither can the power of information. Start-ups in the food industry, particularly in India, do not pay sufficient attention to market research. There are several reasons for this. The first being, reliable and valid market research is expensive, whether commissioned or conducted by the entrepreneur; second, the entrepreneur may be driven by a passion – either for the product or the entrepreneurial activity – and may feel that market research is delaying the arrival of the product in the market. It may simply be that the entrepreneur does not want to receive any negative feedback on his product. Regardless of the reason, failing to do market research can amount to a death sentence for your food enterprise. The companies that do their homework the best are the ones that are likely to survive over the long term.

If you are interested in entering the food industry with a good IP portfolio including a good brand and trademark, vendor and retailer data and a strong and innovative product and positioning, it is necessary to understand the market in terms of:

Consumer: Your consumer preferences could give rise to brand loyalty. Understanding his preferences in terms of colour, taste, flavour, smell, texture, packaging, quantity and other such parameters could help you to tailor your product to meet his expectations. Further innovations to the product can also be driven by the consumer’s changing preferences. For example, if you are targeting small children with bakery products, it would be invaluable to know that small children prefer uniform and homogenous textures to mixed textures which are popular with adolescents.

Product: Studying existing products in the market would provide you with important information regarding the uniqueness of your (proposed) product. You would be able to then leverage this uniqueness by building on it, and creating a brand to highlight the difference. Innovative design in the product – such as unique colours, shapes and configurations, compositions, and new flavours, could add to the inherent uniqueness. For instance, if you are in a crowded market such as potato chips, it may be essential to differentiate your chips by providing different configurations, shapes, textures and perhaps additional flavouring or dips.

Competition: Competition needs to be studied in terms of target market, positioning, retailer agreements, supply chain efficiency (particularly in perishable goods), innovation and IP protection, and changing consumer preference. It is necessary to identify the competitor and also to understand the areas of competition. It is possible that the same competitor may not be competing against you in your entire product line. By identifying competition appropriately, enterprises can allocate scarce resources to those products which are receiving strong market response. For instance, if your cream biscuits are receiving more response than those of your competitors, while your ready to cook pasta is losing out to a stronger competitor, it may be better to consolidate your cream biscuit market before allocating further resources and energy to the pasta business. Monitoring your competitor would also mean you are watching whether he is copying your product or passing off his product as yours by using a similar trademark or brand name.

One of the ways smaller companies could get reliable market research is by pooling together their resources and getting a single report done by a leading market researcher in that industry. Subsequently, the cluster could share the output of the report in non-competing ways.

*Our team was invited to make a presentation on IP at the Technology Entrepreneurship Development Programme (TEDP) in Food Processing organised by VITTBI under the aegis of National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board, DST, Govt. of India and Entrepreneurship Development Institute, Ahmedabad on 07 Sep, 2012. For further information on the programme please contact tbicoordinator@vit.ac.in


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