Was Innocent’s launch of coconut water real innovation or just clever product development?  The difference between innovation and product development is the age old question that has been plaguing food technologists for what feels like millennia!  So many times we are challenged to develop our innovation agendas but are often told “…don’t include product development – product development is not innovation!”

So where do you draw the line?  If product development is not innovation, then what is it?  This post aims to demystify the difference between the two areas in an effort to develop some clarity and direction so that food technologists can generate and gain credit for their innovations.

Where product development and innovation overlap

As you can see from the diagram below I believe that not all innovation is product development or vice versa, but there is a clear overlap between the two.  It can be easier to work out where there is a distinct difference.

Existing product development (sometimes termed EPD) is not innovation – an example of this type of product development could be new flavour variations of an existing product range.  This process requires minimal innovative thinking as no novel ingredients or processes are required – the blueprint for the product already exists and it should be relatively straightforward to deliver these products to market.

Similarly process innovation is not product development because it does not deliver a new product to market.  It may help to provide a better solution to meet existing or new requirements, for example a different type of thermal process which extends shelf life without negatively impacting on product quality parameters. This process innovation offers a competitive advantage to the business which is difficult or costly for others to replicate, particularly if there is intellectual property associated with the development of the process, but it does not deliver new products onto the shelves.

However product innovation and new product development are less clearly defined.  The way that I rationalise whether a piece of work should live on my innovation agenda is by working through the following decision tree:

 The Innovation Decision Tree

Work through this decision tree to provide a logical justification for a project’s inclusion on your innovation agenda

There should be clear recognition for the work that food technologists put into developing, configuring, sourcing and handling different processes and ingredients. This work is not straightforward, it can be time consuming and problematic with many different iterations reviewed and trialled before success can be claimed and can result in the delivery of high quality, safe and legal products.

So start using the decision tree and including all your ideas on your innovation agendas to gain the credit that you deserve for the work that you deliver.