New Products: How Do You Identify The Winners?

Our industry, especially in vending, has always benefitted from new products – whether it be line extensions or new innovative products.

Product manufacturers know that vending shoppers are very likely to buy a new item. Why? Three simple reasons:

  1. A new item stands out among the limited number of familiar products.
  2. The cost is inexpensive. It’s a single serve, compared to supermarket packages – either larger size or multi-serving pack.  
  3. The cost of being wrong is cheap. If he/she doesn’t like it, the price is less versus a supermarket package.

Think back about some of the big new product or category winners in vending and across our industry:

  1. Famous Amos® Chocolate Chip Cookies: Industry veterans will tell you that this product gained much of its initial exposure and trial in vending. (1970s to 1980s)
  2. Doritos® Cool Ranch® Flavored Tortilla Chips: At the time it was the company’s most successful line extension. An interesting fact – market research indicated that 37 percent of the initial trial occurred at vending and foodservice locations. (1980s)  
  3. Rice Krispies® Treats: You might recall we could not keep in stock. One operator told me that she had it in as many as seven slots and it completely sold out daily at some locations. (1990s)
  4. Single-cup brewing: The success was based on a combination of personal choice (a much wider range of products and flavors) enhanced by speed of service (fast preparation) plus more efficient usage (make only what you need) and technology (easy-to-use and intuitive equipment). (1990s to 2000s)  

Our business today is much more diversified – with many more onsite foodservice operations and the powerful momentum of micro-markets. These venues allow us to offer a much wider array of products – including new categories of products and many more selections by category.

We must be intensely focused on new products and new categories. That drives a key question: how do you learn about new products?

Find new products

For an operator there are three main ways to learn about new products. You could:

  1. Read about it – in trade magazines – either ads or in articles – whether online or in print.
  2. See it and taste it at trade shows – national, regional and local (at distributor shows).
  3. See it and taste it – when a sales representative contacts you.

All three sources are and will continue to be very important for you to identify product opportunities. But it is not enough – especially if you’re operating micro-markets and more onsite foodservice locations.

You need new and different ways to find new products.

It’s time to get out of your office. You must eat, snack and drink all around town. That includes your own locations – as a baseline to compare what you offer versus competing foodservice operations. See what they stock versus what you are not carrying. You’ll find opportunities to add new SKUs and maybe even new categories. Check out the beverages – hot and cold – dispensed and packaged. Study the candy, snacks, cookies, crackers, energy bars and more. Look at prepackaged food – sandwiches, salads, snacks, etc.

Visit the best

Be sure to visit the “best” stores of the top chains in your area. Focus on stores located within 15 minutes of your best locations. Your target list:  

  1. Convenience stores – Our leading competition.   
  2. Fast food restaurants – Pushing hot and cold beverage variety and new snack-oriented food items. Watch out for delivery from fast food restaurants – they’re in some test markets now.  
  3. Fast casual restaurants – Making a major effort to build take-out sales.
  4. Supermarkets – Building special sections near the front of the store to sell sandwiches, snacks and beverages for take-out or sit-down consumption.
  5. Chain drug stores – The emerging competition – with a major emphasis on immediate consumption food, snacks and beverages.

Make your stops around-the-clock including breakfast, lunch, drive-time both AM and PM, and snack time in the mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

Watch what is selling well to get ideas on new products. The number of facings of an item will tell you if it is selling well. The shelf positioning is also a key indicator. Pay attention to: high or low; end cap, end aisle or mid-aisle; featured displays and secondary displays.

Now you can go back to your suppliers with a list of products and categories. Don’t wait to read it, or for trade shows or a sales call. You’ve got to take control of the new product and new category agenda.