Avoiding Innovation Crashes

I recently came across a BusinessWeek blog titled, “10 Worst Innovation Mistakes in a Recession.” The fact that we are in a recession means that we, as a country, may have already taken a few missteps on the financial front, so I figured I should read on to avoid making any more. Mistake number four on the list was, “Stop New Product Development.”

An uncertain economy and lower consumer spending has most likely caused manufacturers to rethink expensive new product launches. Launching new products in any environment is risky, but recessionary product launches present their own challenges. That being said, I’ve read countless articles like the one above that insist on the old adage of spending money to make money, despite economic woes.

The food industry seems to meet somewhere in the middle of both theories. Instead of launching entirely new products – which involves the risk of consumer rejection plus large capital and marketing investments – many food manufactures are simply adding to or improving pre-existing, successful products.

Up for consideration: beef jerky. Sold everywhere from gourmet groceries to gas stations and enjoyed by everyone from cowboys to astronauts, jerky is a well-established and well-loved snack. (Sidebar – I’m lying a little bit. Jerky products remind me of the treats I feed my Dalmatian – but I think I’m a rare case.) Jerky has already carved itself a solid niche in the functional snack food world. But is something missing from your jerky experience? How about 150 mgs of caffeine?

“Perky Jerky” promises to be the “world's first all-natural performance enhancing meat snack.” Feeding off America’s insatiable thirst for energy drinks and apparent chronic fatigue, adding Guarana to beef jerky seems like a great idea. Merging two products that have found success on their own should lead to a profitable product launch. But how far is too far when it comes to product innovation?

Perhaps most important in a new product launch is clearly explaining to the consumer the need for said product. When money is tight, consumers are most likely to reach for items with a perceived relevance.

So I guess the only question left to ask is, how necessary are caffeinated beef products in your life?