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An INTERVIEW with Vanessa MAYNERIS on building a successful innovation strategy post COVID.

Do you wonder what has changed in your consumers’ habits during this pandemic? If so, have you started to alter or re-invent your innovation plans?

Being able to know the latest trends ahead of the market is priceless in any industry. So we at INNODELICE had the pleasure to talk with Vanessa MAYNERIS from PLAN, a product-strategy consultancy firm in London – UK, who had recently published a report on “How COVID-19 Changed our Food and Sustainability Behaviours”. We asked her a few questions to get her view on how to build a successful innovation strategy during these trying times.

Vanessa is a product and innovation management expert, with in-depth knowledge of the global packaged food industry. She leads the Food & Beverage consulting team at PLAN, in London. She has worked on client and consulting sides, developing NPD and leading innovation teams at Danone dairy, L'Oreal, ?What If! and Abbvie Pharmaceuticals. Vanessa is a regular speaker at food events and is passionate about food sustainability, the flexitarian movement and how to design successful plant-based products. She holds an MBA with a marketing specialisation at HEC School of Management.

How has COVID impacted food trends? Which changes in food consumption habits should we expect as we enter the “new normal”?

Some trends have seen an acceleration of what was already at work:

  • E-COMMERCE WAS BOOSTED but CAME UP SHORT. Large online grocers were positioned to be winners during this contactless period. However, they missed the opportunity to deliver on the convenience they once promised. Smaller and new players have benefited from the demand surge.

  • COMMUNITY SPIRIT COMEBACK. Buying locally produced food was always a big trend to ensure product quality. But with more time being spent at home and more local grocery shopping, people are rediscovering and reconnecting with their communities and supporting local businesses.

  • SUSTAINABILITY REMAINS A PRIORITY. Sustainable shopping remains an important priority for consumers. However, shopping channel restrictions, product availability and hygiene concerns are preventing them from buying desired sustainable products. Concerns over food waste sharply accelerated throughout the lockdown with more people cooking meals at home. Repurposing leftovers and home composting are some of the ideas becoming more attractive to consumers.

Some new trends have emerged from the lockdown:

  • PLANNING FOR IMPULSE TREATS. The increase in grocery planning and reduction in shopping trips means consumers don’t impulsively buy treats like they used to. Instead, they are planning ahead to create small moments of pleasure at home. Impulse purchase and on-the-go shopping is predicted to reduce in the next 12 months. If the pandemic crisis is followed by an economical crisis, consumers will increase their consumption of small, indulgent products (e.g. chocolate bars).

  • HOME-COOKED HEALTH. The basket increase of fruit and vegetables and the reduction of ready meals and takeaways is helping consumers to rediscover the goodness of home-cooked meals.This is likely to remain if consumers keep working partially from home.

Some trends are not likely to last beyond the COVID crisis (but it is hard to predict when the COVID crisis will end):

  • HYGIENIC STATE OF MIND. Preferring pre-packed foods, reducing contact with others and adopting new cleanliness towards food standards at home, have now produced a new set of hygienic behaviours in people’s lifestyle.

  • HOME-BAKING EXPLOSION. Home-baking is filling the void for different activities to do at home and with the family (even bread which has massively suffered from the anti-carb movement). However, the interest could drop as consumers return to their busy lives and want to offset the extra calories.

  • AVAILABILITY OVER LOYALTY. Shoppers are adapting to what is available on shelves. As a result, they are trialing new brands and products they wouldn’t usually buy, becoming less brand and price-sensitive during the lockdown. With the end of lockdown, we predict that major brands will re-emerge as winners of the pandemic whilst start- ups will suffer as supermarkets have focused on basic ranges.


PLAN recently published a study based on a consumer survey (in UK and France) qualitative interviews and trends review on that topic. Find the report here:

PLAN is also hosting a webinar to present this research on June 29th at 12pm BST (British Summer Time). Do not hesitate to book the event by clicking on the invitation above.


As you support food companies in building their strategic plan for Innovation, which recommendations would you give to our ice cream & frozen partners to come up with a successful innovation strategy?

  • PROMOTE FROZEN FOOD SUSTAINABILITY. Frozen food has seen a revival during the lockdown as it allowed consumers to plan better their meals , stock-up on food, cook from scratch and reduce food waste. Frozen food manufacturers should promote their products on these key qualities to retain their new customers. Frozen food is not just ready meals and quick fix for consumers with little time on their hands. It’s also a great category to eat more sustainably.

  • CHOOSE YOUR STRATEGIC IMPERATIVES. Do you want to increase frequency / usage among your consumers or gain new consumers, stick to your current market or explore new segments. Transform your offer or improve what you currently have (e.g. clean label, better taste, sustainable packaging).

  • BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR TARGET CONSUMERS. Don't try to please everybody and offer the right product to your consumer target.

  • PLANT-BASED WILL GROW IN FROZEN TOO. We are seeing a new breed of products offering tasty alternatives to flexitarian consumers such as Strong Roots in the UK, US and Ireland. Plant-based is not just about replacing meat (like Quorn or Impossible burgers) but often increasing vegetables for a healthier diet.

  • EXPLORE NEW DISTRIBUTION CHANNELS. Consumers have access now to more choices beyond classic e-grocers, with 30 min delivery from small players. Ben & Jerry for instance is working with Just Eat to offer ice creams with a pizza or meal delivery. In the US, Daily Harvest is offering healthy smoothie mixes and healthy bowls in a frozen format with a subscription service.

  • EXPERIMENT. It’s unlikely you will get it right at launch, try quickly to experiment with new partnerships and products. Collect consumer feedback and data to be able to adapt your innovation quickly.

Once your long term innovation strategy is set, how do you maintain a successful innovation pipeline? What are the most successful methods to develop & test a concept?

  • START WITH A DVF APPROACH (Desirability, Viability, Feasibility). Looking at trends, what’s successful in adjacent markets, what are the key consumers needs, where are the gaps in the market, what are your capabilities. Don't be afraid to steal with pride ideas that exist in other markets but be clear about the problems you are solving for your consumers.

  • CREATE SIMPLE CONCEPTS and SCREEN THEM QUICKLY (you have now access to simple online testing platforms that help you understand what works best).

  • Then DEVELOP YOUR PRODUCTS FROM THE BEST CONCEPTS. Move to recipes quickly. Test your products and ideas with consumers panels and transform them quickly with their feedback. Or try to test them live in the customer settings (especially if you are sold in restaurants). Stick to a single-minded proposition.

The pace of innovation is continuously increasing. There has never been so many new products launched on the market. How do you stand out from the crowd?

PRODUCT QUALITY has to be at the center of everything that you do. I see so many start-ups who have a great concept but a product that doesn’t deliver. Invest in DIGITAL COMMUNICATION and EXPERIENCE.

We often hear about open innovation vs internal innovation? How do you see that evolving?

  • Working with start-ups can help you accelerate innovation. For small or very innovative markets, it is very often what large manufacturers choose to do. It also has a strong cultural impact and transform how companies work internally. But they still develop their core brands and offer internally.

  • Mid-size manufacturers are probably even better at working with start-ups because they understand the issues they face and can help them scale up and access distribution quickly. It’s not just for Nestle or Unilever (see what Chobani has done in the US).

  • Innovation is not just products, it's product experience, technology, new distribution channels, new pricing models. NPD is not the only way to innovate. And here, start-ups and external partners can really help.

On a more personal note, what has been for you the most successful innovation in Ice Cream over the last 5 years? Why?

Like in chocolate (think Lindt), consumers are increasingly aware of quality cues in ice cream.

Gelato parlours and premium brands have made ice creams more interesting and consumers are ready to pay for premium, natural ingredients. In the UK, consumers are now buying 450ml tub from Grom or Remeo for £6!

I don't see low calories ice-creams as a sustainable trend, especially in Europe. Consumers are looking for permission to indulge so having natural ingredients, smaller size or a vegan base (almond, cashew, coconut) is as powerful as reducing the fat or sugar and can deliver a better taste and texture experience.


About PLAN

Plan is a Product-service strategy boutique consultancy based in London. Since 2004, Plan has provided strategic guidance to some of the world’s leading names in food, consumer goods, technology and mobility. Our services range from market foresight, design research, opportunity identification, product design and helping innovation, design and R&D teams raise their game. Sign up to our news and views at


We are the only dedicated frozen dessert broker connecting manufacturers and importers across the world. We help our network to DISCOVER, SELL and BUY among themselves the missing items in order to COMPLETE their portfolio and unlock new GROWTH opportunities through COLLABORATION. Do not hesitate to CONTACT US for more information.

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