Waterproof Paperweights

April 7, 2007

What are waterproof paperweights, and what do they have in common with fresh-cut product development?

Allow me to explain. I was recently helping my great-aunt (88 years old) with a garage sale. A younger cousin and I were doing the transactions for her when we came across a box with black flexible plastic squares with sand heat-sealed in them to add weight to ankle and wrist bracelets when power-walking. However, the bracelets were missing. My cousin told me to just throw them away. I told her I could sell them. She bet me a dollar I couldn’t. Being the creative product developer that I am, I couldn’t resist a challenge, so I took her bet.

As I surveyed the tables in my aunt’s garage sale, I noticed some rolled up posters. I placed a couple of black plastic squares on a poster print and noticed that they held the poster flat for better viewing.

After that quick exercise, I returned to my cousin and told her I would sell them as a set. With that, I stacked them in a little pyramid and labeled them waterproof paper weights, with a price of 10 cents on the sticker.

Shortly after, a woman shopping at my aunt’s sale asked me: What are waterproof paperweights? Without hesitation, I said they hold down posters and prints. I pulled one of the poster prints from the table and showed her the waterproof paperweights in use. She said she would take them.

I took a waste product and made it into something salable, much to the amazement of my family and friends witnessing the transaction.

Not only did I provide a lady a helping hand in holding down her rolled-up prints at home, I earned 10 cents for my aunt, and I was a dollar ahead from the wager with my younger cousin.

In my profession, fresh-cut processors constantly ask me about what’s new.

What can they start adding to their product offerings to give them an edge or a profitable niche? Some will mention a new product idea that excites customers or will reference a competitor’s product they read about in an industry publication.

I generally respond to their queries with a question: Has the method of product development by customer request or copying your competition proven to be profitable for your company in the past?

There are many things to consider between your customer’s inspiration and your plant executing a new product idea, not the least of which might be the need to purchase additional processing equipment. By the time you are ready with the new product, it has faded from your customer’s memory or is no longer viable. The struggles associated with copying competitors that are revealing new items also are problematic. By the time you read about it, they already are securing the leadership role in that new product category.

Try to envision showing a new product idea to a customer and being able to deliver it in a timely fashion at a profit, because you did your homework, your research, and completed all the time-consuming tasks before introducing it.

Effective product development is as simple as my aunt’s garage sale. Take a good look at your inventory, your production line. What could you add or change to create a new product without major strain and still maintain a profitable margin? How could you position that product in the marketplace to gain attention?

As in the case of my aunt’s sale, pick a trade name that begs the question: What is it?

Since you cannot be present to answer the question, be sure to have a descriptive line. Instantly communicate to your foodservice or retail customer the “value” in your value-added product via your product’s packaging. Not only what it is, but its “use.” If you do this, you will be more effective with your product launches in the future.

These simple methods will help your fresh-cut offerings be more profitable in the future, because you are tailoring your new product to what your plant can effectively produce while still maintaining a profit.

Loralee Lyman is principal of Flipside Design, Carmel, Calif. She specializes in branding, product development and package design for the fresh-cut industry. Call her at (831) 333-1222 or e-mail loralee@productlaunchdesign.com.