Food and beverage manufacturers and retailers must put consumer needs at the heart of innovation strategies to ensure their brands remain relevant, according to a study produced by UK-based Leatherhead Food Research.

Qualitative research undertaken by Leatherhead with sister company Oakland Innovation, UK, indicates that the sector is on the cusp of an age of innovation largely driven by escalating and evolving consumer demands. The study, “Consumer-focused innovation for better business returns,” indicates that brands that cater to these demands will be best placed to thrive over the coming years. Those that don’t could find they are disrupted by customer-focused start-ups.

To help organizations purposefully align their strategies with customer needs, brands must harness customer insight via data and sensory science to enhance both incremental product development and longer-term breakthrough innovation.

“Today’s consumers are savvy, well connected and more aware of issues such as nutrition and provenance,” says Cindy Beeren, vice president consumer sensory and market insight. “They expect food and beverage brands to offer products that suit their individual requirements. But, it isn’t only about the product itself; the end-to-end experience from shopping to eating also needs to be considered. This is a challenging situation, but brands that use objective, scientific approaches to inform innovation can develop new ideas that resonate with consumers.”