The trend for consumers wanting more variety and choices in their food and beverage products shows no sign of abating. According to market research firm IRI’s 2016 New Product Survey, more than 20 percent of consumers are searching for “options that are new and truly different,” and another 24 percent are looking to “add excitement to their daily diet.”

It’s more than likely your company is having the product innovation discussion right now. LiDestri Food and Drink, a food, beverage and spirits manufacturer, has been busy helping many large food companies to smoothly and efficiently develop new products and quickly get them to the consumer-testing phase.

Market research has proven that being the first in a category or introducing a novel flavor is beneficial. However, it isn’t always who is first, but who is doing it better. For example, Chobani became a leader in Greek yogurt because of its packaging and marketing plans. This was recently noted by Nielsen VP Mike Black in his blog post “Uncommon Sense: The Modern Innovation Dilemma – First Mover or Best Mover.”

For companies that are behind the curve in innovation, using speed to market is particularly important as is creating differentiation in a saturated category. 

“Creating differentiation in a competitive and mature category can be tricky, as with pasta sauce, because improvements are quickly mimicked by the competition,” says Frank Cavallaro, vice president of new business development at LiDestri.

He says the company recently helped one of its partner’s, Newman’s Own, to achieve differentiation by reaching out to LiDestri’s suppliers.

“We commissioned a grower to organically farm 1.5 million pounds of a rare, high-flavor tomato that no other company is using,” he says, which resulted in Common Good pasta sauce. “And we completed the product cycle, from initial idea to shipping pallets in less than a year.”

Cavallaro shared three big tips for entrepreneurs looking to successfully use speed-to-market when developing new products:

1. Using Third Party Development Houses

“Most third party development houses don’t have their own commercial production lines. So while they can be a help in shaping formulas, designing branding and choosing packaging, there’s a final and important step to be done in scaling the product up. It’s worth knowing that many contract manufacturers offer all of the same services, but offer capabilities that go well beyond.”

2. Good Supplier Relationships

“If a new product requires unusual and hard-to find-ingredients, it’s important to choose a contract manufacturer who can demonstrate a strength in supplier relationships that fits a company’s particular needs. Shortages do happen, and if a manufacturer was the last buyer through the door for a particular ingredient, they’ll be last in line behind long-standing customers.”

3. The Importance of Packaging and Processing

“New entrepreneurs, or even experienced ones who are still shaping the brand identity of a new product, sometime underestimate how important processing and packaging type are to shelf appeal. It’s not unusual for a product to undergo a shift in one or the other, particularly as consumers begin to demand healthier, fresher and more natural products. Understand how much skill a contract manufacturer has in each of these areas, since finding it necessary to change partners to switch out a package or process will hobble a speed-to-market sprint.”