Corporate Profiles - 2020 - 56

INDUSTRY REVIEW: INNOVATION

Innovation
Effects of the pandemic vary on new product development
hen the coronavirus barreled into the United States in early
March, new product introductions essentially grinded to a halt
as grocery retailers focused on restocking shelves amid widespread panic buying. Food manufacturers limited production to fewer
stock-keeping units to keep pace with the tremendous demand.
Additionally, a handful of companies retooled to begin producing
hard-to-find hand and other sanitizer and medical equipment. The Hershey Co., Hershey, Pa., committed $1 million to acquire, install and staff
a new manufacturing line dedicated to producing disposable face masks
in response to the nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment.
Conagra Brands, Inc., Chicago, had an aggressive innovation strategy
heading into the year, but plans were altered by the pandemic.
"Most customers are just trying to keep products on the shelf right
now," Sean M. Connolly, president and chief executive officer of Conagra
Brands, told investment analysts during an April 1 earnings call. "Some
customers, big ones, have said to us that they want to continue with the
shelf set timing. Others had said, we're going to push that back a bit just
so we can ensure that we don't have any complexity in anything going on
at the store shelves that's going to be a distraction from keeping products
in stock. So, we are trying to respond to all of our customers' requests so
we can do whatever they want."
The sentiment was echoed by companies large and small throughout
the spring and summer months. Ingredient companies such as Sensient
Technologies Corp., a Milwaukee-based supplier of colors and flavors,
anticipated disruption in new product development projects of food and
beverage companies.
"Governments are imposing varying degrees of restrictions, sometimes
changing them abruptly, which is creating uncertainty for businesses,"
said Paul Manning, president and CEO of Sensient Technologies Corp.,
during an April 29 earnings call. "Our customers are responding to these
changes in various ways. Certain customers are deferring innovation and
new product development while others are trying to adapt to keep projects alive.
"While we see an increase in demand in certain product categories in the
food and beverage and personal care markets, we are seeing a lower demand in

BRANDS THAT EMERGED

56 \ October 2020

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W

The uncertainty of the coronavirus put some innovation and new product
development on hold.

other categories, such as makeup, ice cream, confectionery and energy drinks."

SMALL BUSINESS STRUGGLES
For food and beverage startups, the cancellation of Natural Products
Expo West in March, the lifeblood of disruptive innovation, was devastating. More than 3,600 brands planned to exhibit the latest concepts and
trends with hopes to land on retail shelves. San Francisco-based Forager
Project announced an ambitious lineup of product launches, including
organic oat milk, plant-based yogurt, dairy-free butter, grain-free cereal
and grain-free tortilla-style chips, with plans to present them to retail
buyers at Expo West.
"You might as well throw everything out the window, right?" said Stephen Williamson, co-founder and CEO of Forager Project, during an interview in April. "We're no longer having in-person meetings with buyers

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Corporate Profiles - 2020

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