Introduction

Product development has been a major activity in the food industry for over 40 years, but only gradually has it developed as a strategic business area and also as an advanced technology. For a long time it was essentially a craft, loosely related to the research and engineering areas in the company. The pressures for product development came very strongly from the needs of the growing supermarkets for a constantly changing, extensive mix of products and for continuous price promotions. So there was the drive for product difference, including minor product changes sufficient to distinguish products on the shelves, and for cost reductions. There were also underlying social and technological changes which caused major product development; for example the increasing number of working women which sparked the need for convenience foods and eating out, and the development of spray and freeze drying which was the basis for instant foods.

When one looks at overall success and failure in the food industry during past years, socially there has been success in providing sufficient cheap food in developed countries, but failure through developing such a poor reputation that the food industry became highly regulated; commercially there has been success in developing large multinational companies, but failure with continuously reducing margins on food products. Can the failures be related to narrowly focused business strategies, to lack of innovation strategies and organisation or to lack of knowledge?

There are now compelling social and technological pressures on the whole food system to change rapidly, such as the pressures from the growth of information technology in the more affluent countries, and from the growing economic strength in some of the developing countries. Can the food industry meet this challenge? Has the food industry the knowledge and the people? How can it respond? The aim of Part I of the book is to look at the causes of product success and failure in the past, and to identify the key issues for successful product development in the future.

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