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Some time ago, Dean Foods Co. analyzed the dairy sector and brilliantly reintroduced milk as a popular drink which they offered in single-serve form and branded as Chugs. The packaging had a convenient hand-held shape, but the polymers were not unique and the forming process was a traditional new shape challenge. The milk was milk, flavored or not. So where was the innovation? The innovation was in the marketing concept.
I offer this example to illustrate the challenges faced by the New Products & Technologies Subcommittee of the IFT Annual Meeting Committee in selecting papers to be presented in the New Products & Technologies sessions. The subcommittee would have had to reject Chugs as a new product, because our guidelines (which don’t need changing) demand not only recency, novelty, and utility, but also a technically driven presentation. The subcommittee is dedicated to educating IFT regarding the technical developments which drive new products and (applied) technologies; marketing innovations and academic research can be presented elsewhere. New Products & Technologies sessions allow the audience to hear about commercialized technology.
Every year, more than half of the submissions are ingredients papers, followed by papers dealing with instruments and analytical methods; processes and equipment; software; and new food introductions. Software papers have been a difficult challenge for the subcommittee. Most software simply formalizes processes we’ve carried out for years, and although the software manufacturers are energetic in offering their papers, the vast majority fail to explain the fundamental novelty of their products.
We receive few papers on packaging materials or machinery. This is somewhat surprising, since packaging innovations have often been a key driving force in various food sectors (e.g., controlled-atmosphere-packaged fresh produce).
Submitting a New Products & Technologies paper is straightforward, but it still requires effort to write a compact and convincing abstract (and, for many submitters, to obtain corporate authorization to present the paper). So why are half of the papers rejected year after year?
In a few cases, the technical innovation is marginal. However, more than half of the rejections are because the writer either didn’t read the instructions or guidelines, or decided that we really didn’t mean them. For example, we often receive proof of a commercialization in the form of a brochure that also proves that the product was offered for sale earlier than the two-year window for “new.” The most common rejection occurs because the author failed to mention what the product is (an ingredient statement would be adequate) or why it is technically innovative (the marketer provided only “puffery”). Even though the subcommittee starts off the planning year with an estimate of 24 papers, it is our intention to present every qualifying paper submitted, by creating additional sessions if necessary.
The food industry keeps changing and our research horizons get shorter, but new products and technologies just keep coming: from traditional sources (food manufacturers and suppliers) and from outside the industry (biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and supplement companies and inventors who persist regardless of the challenges).
Some innovations are suddenly on the market (like Benecol and Take Control margarines), while others are old news before they are commercial (sucralose/Splenda, olestra/Olean/WOW, aspartame, Benefat/salatrim). The subcommittee has struggled with this and decided to admit papers within two years of commercialization (hoping that new information will be included). The subcommittee has also struggled with the novelty of products which are approved in part of the world and then become approved later in another major country. If a significant share of the Institute’s members gain new access to the product, a paper could be accepted.
Biotechnology papers could be a challenge. Suppose a tomato is improved for herbicide resistance. This means that consumers can buy a tomato that appears the same to them, but that the farmer has an easier time with weeds. Is it a new product? The subcommittee would say yes, because there is new applied technology (if disclosed) and a benefit (even if the consumer can’t see it, and even if the cost savings aren’t passed on to the consumer).
Guidelines and forms for submitting papers for the New Products & Technologies sessions can be obtained via the IFT Web site (www.ift.org), by requesting Document 2290 from the IFT e-XPRESS faxback service at 800-234-0270 (650-556-9176 outside the U.S. or Canada), or by calling the IFT office at 312-782-8424.
Please read the guidelines, and if your paper qualifies as a new product or technology, submit it. Challenge the subcommittee with developments we never anticipated.
by CHARLES I BECK
Chair, New Products & Technologies
Subcommittee, Annual Meeting Committee