the reduce, reuse, recycle of innovation

by: Becky Mead

When sales aren’t going swimmingly, it’s tempting to “turn on” innovation as a solution. Many businesses believe they’ll be able to fill the gap by ramping up with more projects, more people and faster timelines. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t stand up.

If you’re facing this kind of pressure, don’t work harder to “churn and burn” through your innovation pipeline. Instead, adopt the principles of recycling - reduce, reuse, recycle. This potent combination is the smart way to innovate. Let’s explore what it might look like in practice.

duotone (30)

reduce (60-70% of your pipeline)


It may seem counterintuitive, but less is more when it comes to innovation. Producing fewer, bigger and better products is far more effective than throwing out numerous average ones. Quality over quantity - that’s what brings in the big bucks.

To achieve this, you must make your NPD projects work harder. Look for ways to double your product’s consumer appeal with more flavours and different pack formats. Launch under a new or sub-brand that expresses your offer in a novel and more impactful way. Aim for incremental shelf spacing, then back yourself by putting significant launch support behind your chosen few. For example, you could launch a new yoghurt range in multiple formats (single tub, 6-pack and family tub) with one big campaign. This approach will help you achieve greater shelf and market impact.

If relying on fewer products feels risky, invest in market research to confirm purchase intent. Validation is key. This way, you can confidently choose three big, strategic plays that you know will move the needle. Idea screeners, concept tests and volumetric tests can help you establish whether your product is unique and desirable. If you discover that 65% of the population wants to buy it once per week in three flavours, you’ll know it represents a sizeable opportunity.


reuse (10% of your pipeline)


The reuse portion of your pipeline should be light and easy. It’s all about bringing new news to the category and keeping the retailer happy. This is the time to lean on your ingredient and flavour suppliers, as well as your R&D team. Among them, there will always be a range of flavours, fragrances and formulation tweaks that you can quickly turn into an NPD bundle.

It’s okay if these innovations become short-term, “limited edition” line extensions. You just need to execute them quickly and cheaply. Use existing equipment, plus current packaging and suppliers (for a short development period). Light research would be helpful, like conducting a flavour screener to put your best line up on the shelves. The outcome should simply involve tweaks to an existing formula.

Some words of warning: Don’t rely heavily on this type of innovation. While line extensions have a role to play in your pipeline, they won’t drive game-changing sales growth. Not all innovation is equal, yet many manufacturers spend the majority of their time on these quick wins. The reality is that more flavours don’t generally mean more shelf space. Instead, you’ll likely cannibalise your own shelf space.


recycle (20-30% of your pipeline)


Finally, it’s time to stop searching for shiny new toys; we covered that in “reduce”. The remaining part of your pipeline should be about recycling and optimising sleeping giants. Revisit your current products, particularly your core range. What could make them more relevant, useful and desirable? From a shopper and consumer perspective, is there a reason no one’s buying?

Sometimes a pack size change can revitalise and increase the relevance of entire categories. Additionally, simple improvements to functionality (like resealable dried pet food bags) can encourage consumer defection from another brand.

Almost every portfolio has a product that isn’t selling because consumers have fallen out of love with it. Perhaps the packaging is outdated, and a facelift would turn everything around. Remember soup in cans? Once a pantry staple, many of these products have been replaced with chilled pouches that signal freshness to today’s health-conscious consumers.

The most important lesson here is to balance your innovation pipeline. By strategically dividing the pie and reducing risk with consumer insight, you can secure sky-high sales AND your organisation’s future.

While breaking down innovation this way might seem simple, the practicalities can be complex. That’s where the PLAY Innovation team comes in. We’re experts in identifying consumer-led opportunity areas and can help retune your NPD process to maximise in-market success. Email me at to get started.



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about the author

Becky Mead

Becky has spent the last 18 years getting curious about understanding consumers so FMCG manufacturers can create products they truly want. Becky’s favourite part of the job is helping businesses leverage the consumer perspective to grow - fast! She believes in the benefits of working in partnership with her clients across the entire innovation process and focuses on consumer-first, agile approaches.

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