Do-it-yourself NPD: How to scope out a market for free

"Architects use blueprints to understand the foundations and build a strong building. Product developers need to have strong foundations of a food category to produce a winning solution," said Emrick.

What do coconut oil, single-serve coffee and raspberry ketone have in common? They are all best sellers on Amazon – and can help new product developers create the next trend-setting product.

Researching the current food landscape, developing an idea and bringing it to market is both costly and time-consuming – and product developers do not always have enough time or money, according to Margaret Emrick, consumer insight specialist at Nestlé.

But using information from online retail sites such as Amazon could shortcut this.

“You can learn a lot about a product in a short amount of time without spending a dime," she told an audience at IFT. “By building a foundational knowledge of a category to gain alignment [you can] move a project along faster.”

Updated hourly, she said the grocery category of Amazon was the most current and readily available information there was. What was more, the customer reviews, feedback forums and star reviews gave product developers an idea of the kind of things people were looking for in a product.

“You can see how consumers are really talking about the product you are researching. Look at the questions people are asking. People are asking about protein content, palm oil and appetite.”

Spot regional differences

Regional variations in food tastes and trends could be easily spotted. A quick search for the top twenty best-selling grocery products on the British Amazon site today showed 11 single-serve coffee products and four coconut oil products, while the French site has three raspberry ketone products and Amazon Germany has two chia seed products – completely absent from the British one.

New product developers could use the information to create a competitive landscape map with different variables, said Emrick – this meant picking a category, defining two variables and seeing where the products fitted in. An empty space may mean a gap in the market – and a potential opportunity.

No safety net

But Euromonitor analyst Lamine Lahouasnia warned that relying solely on internet gleaned from free sites could be risky.

“There are pitfalls – if you’re making a multi-million dollar decision based on information from a free source there’s no accountability. If something goes wrong you couldn’t take somebody to court," he told FoodNavigator.

"With market research firms we have legal expertise, there’s due diligence.”

And while such sources of information had their uses, developers should be wary of being over reliant on free information.

“The internet is increasingly used to launch the right product and the more information you can access, and the higher the quality, the better the decision you can make.

“I think the type of information you can get from a site like Google Analytics or Amazon add to the arsenal at a company’s disposal but I don’t see it as a replacement [for a market research institute’s services.]”

Last year Euromonitor produced an infogram outlining the pros and cons of using Google as a market research tool rather than an official market research company.

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