New And Improved - Or New And Dumb?

October 08, 1991|By Audrey Haar

Iced-tea mixes outsell tea bags, so cold coffee sold in a can like a soft drink should be a winner, right? That's what Robert M. McMath, forecaster of new product success and failures,


Want to "Catch a Buzz Naturally?" Mr. McMath puts Buzz Gum in the win column. The gum is made with Guarana, a natural source of caffeine, the label on its container states. The gum, marketed by Nekros International Marketing in Ogden, Utah, is available in specialty food stores.

Now that nutritionists are promoting the health benefits of more beans in our diets, a product called Beano promises to eliminate the unfortunate result of eating beans -- gas. And a product to relieve similar symptoms for Fido, Cur Tail Drops, is a "social breakthrough for your pet," its package proclaims. Two more winners, Mr. McMath says.

Beano is available in most supermarkets, and Cur Tail Drops, which is brand new, in the pet products aisles of stores, Mr. McMath said.

Here in Baltimore as part of a national tour, Mr. McMath works as a consultant to companies that are developing new products.

During his 27 years in the new product business, Mr. McMath, director of New Products Showcase and Learning Center in Ithaca, N.Y., has packed 75,000 products that tried to make a go of it on the open market into what he calls a "museum of failures."

Failures are not hard to come by Mr. McMath said; only one in five new products introduced is a hit in the marketplace.

Some of the failures? Remember Premier Cigarettes? R. J. Reynolds is said to have spent $325 million on its smokeless cigarette, but it was targeted to non-smokers, Mr. McMath noted.

How about shampoo for short hair when long hair is in? In the 1970s Clairol put the shampoo Short 'n' Sassy on the market just as longhair styles were hitting the fashion pages. Why? "Because it took the company two years to develop the product. The bigger the company, the longer the development period." Mr. McMath said.

One company brought out tomato paste in a tube. It didn't catch on. "Americans have never taken to food in tubes," Mr. McMath said. "We associate that with toothpaste."

The number of new products and the costs to put them in the stores skyrocket each year.

In 1980, there were a few thousand new products; last year, a record 16,000 products hoped to be the next Ivory Soap, a winner for more than 100 years.

"It's the most difficult time in my memory, in my years of work, to try to get new products into markets," Mr. McMath said. "Once they get there, if they are any good, the rewards are fantastic. New products are still the lifeblood of the industry. That little term 'new' has never been duplicated."

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