The consumer in product development

Consumers are the centre of product development in the food industry, directly in the design of consumer products and indirectly in the design of commodity products and industrial products. In industrial product development, the emphasis is on the immediate customer, but consideration needs to be given to the acceptance of the final product by the consumer. It is important in product development to understand basic consumer behaviour and food choice as well as the individual product/consumer relationship (Earle, 1997). Differences among the individual consumers and variations in their environments influence their buying, preparing and eating behaviour. These differences cause variations in food choice and in the degree of acceptance of individual foods. The consumers' total concept of a food is related to their individual characteristics and to the environment in which they buy and eat food.

Consumers are, and will remain, the final arbiters on food product acceptance. The consumer of the new food product gives the ultimate decision on the product development project and therefore it is crucial that the consumer is a major player in critical evaluation throughout the project. But it is even more important to incorporate the consumer in the creative processes in product development. It is wrong to assume that the product designer, the process developer and the marketer know who are the target consumers and what they want and need. The consumers have to identify themselves, and help to create a product that fits into their life styles and also leads them into their desired future.

The consumer needs to be involved in all stages of the product development project. At one time, this seemed an expensive, theoretical and time-consuming activity, and was often ignored in the company. Today, consumer research is more easily coordinated into product development, with the use of modern consumer research techniques to study behaviour and attitudes, develop product concepts and attributes, test product prototypes; and with the use of information technology to set up consumer databases and analyse consumer data.

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