coffee pods

There has been a lot in the press recently about Juicero – a cold press juice system launched last year by a well-funded Silicon Valley start-up. The system comprises of a consumer focused appliance that uses high force to squeeze juice from a single-serve consumable to produce a fresh, high quality and healthy juice drink.

Much of the critical comment is due to the cost of the appliance ($699 at launch, dropped to $399 in January 2017) and the fact that it seems you can broadly achieve the same functions by simply squeezing the consumable with your hands. And whilst the appliance, being WiFi connected, will also verify that the consumable is in date and hasn’t been recalled, there are questions over how valuable that is (given the best before date is also printed on the pack).

I think this raises two really interesting topics:

  • The importance of understanding consumer need when developing new systems
  • The importance of innovation in designing for cost

Consumer-led innovation

Consumable-durable systems - with Nespresso probably being the shining example everyone wants to replicate - are popular from both a business and consumer point of view. Like inkjet printers, they lock a consumer into an eco-system that can generate huge revenues and profits. But getting this right and creating a successful ecosystem is not easy and must be driven by a need and desire from consumers. This is why the coffee world has been able to maximise on the concept (eco-systems like those from Senseo, Tassimo, Keurig and Dolce Gusto) – the alternative to get the same drink is quite a complicated and messy process and the whole experience is rich (engaging with the appliance, ordering new pods, the perceived value of the brand). So you can’t have “locking the consumer into your eco-system” as the main driver when developing the system, you must consider what the benefits are for the consumer -  if they can get the same beverage experience simply by taking a can/bottle/carton out of the refrigerator then a dedicated eco-system will be tough to justify.

Whilst there is increasing value associated with consumer experience (and by all accounts Juicero does this really well), and the opportunities that IOT and connected systems bring for that, it alone can’t be relied upon as the sole reason for success. As we concluded in our FMCG IOT report last year, there has got to be multiple added benefits for both consumer and company to make these technologies worthwhile.

Science led innovation is a fundamental part of our approach to developing new products, systems and technologies. This focusses on building understanding of both the science behind technology as well the needs of the consumer throughout the innovation process to stimulate ideas, but also to help generate higher quality ideas. Of course it is not as simple as asking consumers what they want/need – you will never achieve radical innovation in that way. And so that is why testing ideas throughout a development with consumers is important. Thankfully technology is only making this easier to do with an abundance of prototyping approaches that can be used to test specific functions and applying a more agile approach that traditionally only software developments could take.

Innovate for cost

Design for Cost (DfC) and associated activities such as Design for Manufacture (DfM) can often be seen as a step in the development process to get the cost of a product down to an optimised level. But so often that can be too little too late – the fundamental design simply isn’t right for a target cost.

What we don’t know in the Juicero example is whether there was a lower cost target at the start of the development that ultimately wasn’t hit or whether the $700/$400 price tag was deemed to be acceptable from the start. Whatever the case, it is worth remembering that to achieve significant cost savings a really innovative approach is needed.

Our innovation processes break down the challenges and fundamentally look at the different ways that it is possible to achieve the same function before assessing the best solutions given the defined criteria/requirements of which cost is often a key target. I can imagine that given the Juicero came from cold press beginnings, there was an inherent belief that the kinds of forces needed there had to be replicated in the appliance which clearly ended up in a high cost solution. And so rather than looking widely and thinking what are the options for achieving the necessary functions and experience, they were too focused on a single solution that has potential hampered the final solution.

There will continue to be huge interest from companies to look at consumable-durable eco-systems, and there is certainly lots of reasons why these can be successful with consumers. However, it is important to remember there are many reasons why they can fail if the right development approach isn’t taken. We’ve got lots of experience of these systems across many product categories including beverage systems and medical products with all the skills you need and so would be happy to talk to anyone thinking of taking this on!

Edd Brunner
Head of Food & Beverage Systems

Edd is responsible for all our work in the food and beverage market. This includes understanding our clients' needs, reviewing projects and ensuring that we constantly meets our clients' commercial and technical requirements.