Brands need to focus on their core products rather than striving for constant innovation, according to a top United Biscuits (UB) executive. 

Mark Winter, sales director at UB, was speaking at yesterday’s IGD Convention, which focused on disruption, covering technology, innovation and leading and retailing in times of disruption.

While many speakers pushed the need to embrace new digital breakthroughs and innovation, Winter argued that “technology is not the answer” and “innovation is not just about new products”. According to research firm Nielsen’s figures, just one in 2,000 new launches succeed and, out of 12,000 consumer products launched between 2011 and 2013, just seven achieved “breakthough disruption”.

Winter also advised delegates that customers cannot tell you what they want in terms of innovation, quoting Ford Motor Company founder Henry T Ford: “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”

He used the successful launch of breakfast biscuits as an example of how innovation was not always the answer. “The breakfast biscuit launch was incredibly disruptive to the world of cereal bars, offering great value at half the price of a cereal bar,” he said.

“They have helped create a £100m category in just three years. They were not a technological breakthrough – biscuits have been in the market since the 1920s.”

Instead, he argued that the success of the launch was down to products and brands positioned well against how people are now living their lives.

“Innovation is not just about new products – you can be equally disruptive on core products,” he added.

Building on core products

McVitie’s chocolate digestives have been in the market for more than 80 years, but in the last year the brand “has been incredibly disruptive”, claimed Winter, with growth up 12%, brand awareness up 6% and brand regard up 8%. This was down to a change of packaging to make it easier for consumers to open, the addition of more chocolate to “get it into more occasions”, as well as advertising.

“If the only constant in the market is change and you don’t continue to make your core products more relevant to consumers, you’ll die, because we live in a very competitive market,” said Winter.

“Execution is the ultimate differentiator between success and failure. Successful businesses allow the cannibalisation of existing products – if you don’t, then someone else will come along and cannibalise your products,” he concluded.