Milking the goat for all it's worth

Branding: the consultants that developed the female condom now reckon they have a product to overcome conservative tastes
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The Independent Online
NOTORIOUS British suspicion about "foreign" foods is not deterring Tesco from stocking Snofrisk, one of the first branded goat's cheeses, made by Norske Meierier, the Norwegian dairies association.

The association's research showed that the British were like small children about food. Although convinced in advance that they would not like the product, they decided once they had tasted it that it was all right after all. In Norway, where the new product has already proven a nigsuccess, and in the association's other significant European market, Germany, consumers were less sceptical than the British beforehand and just as enthusiastic afterwards.

"People think they hate goat's cheese, so we had to make the product accessible," explains David Lowings of the London-based brand development consultants Dragon International. Dragon developed the brand, and PA Consulting resolved technical issues to do with the recipe and production. The arrangement ensured that the final product reflected consumer interest, not merely the maker's capabilities.

The branding problem for the chosen cheese product was to capitalise on the perceived advantage of cheese made from goat's rather than cow's milk, while steering clear of the negatives. The advantage is that consumers think of goats as happy, roaming "free spirits" gambolling on scenic mountainsides while cows sulk in herds in their fields. The high value and perceived naturalness of such a product fit well with its Norwegian origin. The principal negative point was that the cheese might taste, well, goaty.

The product was accordingly designed to be light and fresh, with just a hint of the distinctive goat's-milk taste, far short of the threatening kick of a French chevre. "Trial will be critical. We know they'll buy it if they try it," says Mr Lowings.

There is the same mere hint of an accent about the chosen product name, too. The "o" of Snofrisk is adorned with a mark that is not an authentic accent in any language. A full oblique stroke through the letter would have intimidated British buyers, who would not buy a product they thought they could not pronounce. The rest of the name is pure invention. The strict rules that govern the names of "real" cheeses do not apply to packaged cheeses, where authenticity is not an issue.

The technical challenge was to position the product to compete not so much against exotic delicatessen cheeses but as a mass-market speciality product alongside such well known brands as Philadelphia. The product had to have interesting packaging and aggressive pricing, not easy for a Norwegian company which must also pay EU import tariffs.

Dragon International and PA Consulting have worked together on new product development projects in this way for 10 years. The best-known product to emerge from this collaborative process was the Femidom, the female condom. But now the pair are formalising their relationship under the name Integrated Innovation. The move is intended to provide a one-stop shop for clients who know they must create more genuinely new products but who can't quite summon up the nerve to innovate.

A feature of markets since the recession has been a reluctance to innovate. In the 1980s, product innovation was easy and often somewhat frivolous. Consumers now, hard-bitten after recession, and more aware of environmental and ethical issues, are concerned that products should perform rather than being novelties for their own sake, Mr Lowings says. "That is the new context companies are trying to innovate in."

Until recently, companies have talked about innovation, but have played safe by extending trusted brands or building up the strength of the corporate brand. Now, Dragon International finds that there is a genuine rise in interest in innovation. However, many British companies lack a hierarchy that encourages cross-functional teamwork or a figure who will champion innovation at the highest level.

Outsourcing is one way to overcome this innate conservatism. But who to go to is no simple decision either. Companies must choose a number of suppliers. The responsibility for making them work effectively together then comes back to the company - which is where the problem lay in the first place.