Deborah Cassell
Editor
Confection & Snack Retailing
casselld@bnpmedia.com


Newspapers are closing. The automobile industry is floundering. Employees are being laid off. Salaries are getting cut. And new product introductions are on the downslide, according to Chicago’s Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD), which yesterday reported that total food and drink product launches have been cut in half since last year – that’s a 51% decline from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009.

Mintel adds that although manufacturers typically release fewer new products during the first quarter of a year, 2009's reduction is higher than in recent years.

"Faced with low consumer confidence and reduced spending, many food and beverage manufacturers cut back on product development and new product launches," says Lynn Dornblaser, a leading new product expert at Mintel. "Many companies face internal budget cuts that affect everything from new product ideation to development and marketing."

Compared to the first quarter of 2008, Mintel’s GNPD says it saw higher-than-average declines for non-alcoholic beverages, chocolate, sugar and gum confectionery and dairy product launches (56%, 55%, 64% and 60%, respectively).

Furthermore, confectionery launches could show a greater-than-average decrease due to Easter 2009 falling in the second quarter.

That’s not to say that things aren’t looking up.

Just ask Dornblaser, who gleans from Mintel GNPD’s monthly data that while food and drink introductions had a steady decline from October 2008 to February 2009, they actually increased in March of this year.

"Consumer confidence has leveled off for the time being, which marks an opportunity for manufacturers,” she adds. “Now is the time for ideation and innovation for products that answer shoppers' desires for value, quality, and pleasure."

More good news: Mintel has tracked new product introductions through three major recessions over the years, Dornblaser notes, and has observed time and again that new product launches decline a bit at the start of a recession, but quickly pick up once the economy begins to turn around.

For now, new products may be on the decline, but new items aren’t necessarily missing in action.

According to an upcoming article in Candy Industry (check out the “11th Annual European Suppliers Roundtable” in next month’s issue at www.candyindustry.com), many new product launches are being delayed right now due to cost, but line extensions are still taking their place – a trend I, too, have noticed in my solicitations for new products from chocolatiers, confectioners and snack producers alike.

As the ALL CANDY EXPO(R) approaches and I write up product galleries for May/June Confection & Snack Retailing and The Daily (pick up your copy each day of the EXPO for new products and “live” show news), I’ve noticed a lack of submissions, to be sure. Those entries I do receive are mainly new flavors, varieties, limited-time offers, seasonal additions and package sizes (often single-serve, portion-control introductions).

Another trend I’ve noticed as I go through my physical and virtual inboxes is the relaunching of old products. (What’s old is new again, as they say.) Some self-declared “new” products are actually those that are just now hitting stores or being sold in new channels, perhaps with new packaging, as well. It remains to be seen when manufacturers will start to unveil brand-spanking-new products again.

Do consumers care? Probably not. I often wonder how many pick up new products in these tough economic times. I’ve read and am led to believe that stressed-out, financially strapped shoppers stick to tried-and-true favorites that bring comfort to them and their families. I know I do.

That said, if a new product carries with it the quality, packaging and marketing prowess (not to mention price) to woo shoppers, then it’s got a chance of surviving.

Speaking of survival, if you’re lucky enough to have a job that still pays the bills, count your lucky stars that you can hop in your car (or buy a new one: 0% financing and no money down will get you every auto feature your heart desires in this down economy) and drive to work each day, where you will hopefully find a newspaper still in print and read up on what’s happening in the marketplace.

Editor’s Note: For more information from Mintel, visit www.mintel.com.