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Less Than 20 Percent of New Products Succeed

Of the more than 30,000 new grocery store products introduced in the United States each year, less than 20 percent succeed. Business consultants Bob and Jean McMath have spent decades collecting both the successes and the failures.

At first they collected the samples for clients from other countries who were interested in new product development in the United States. And then they just could not stop.

The result is a collection of more than 70,000 products that have been marketed in the United States since the late 1960s. Bob McMath says the display, housed in an old car showroom in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a lesson in marketing. "You've got some very common reasons why products fail," he said. "It can be taste. It can be price. It can be advertising, the graphics on the package, even the color on the package."

Take the breakfast snack that was marketed in a black wrapper, for example. That product failed, Mr. McMath says, because the packaging was too depressing. No one wanted to start the day looking at black.

And then there was the creative wrapper Planters Peanuts introduced a few years ago that failed miserably because it looked too much like a container of coffee beans. "People literally took it to the machines in the supermarkets, the coffee grinders, and ground it," he said. "The supermarket managers were irate and said 'Who is going to clean up my machine? Peanuts were just put through my coffee machine!' "

Many products fail because they are too unusual. Everyone was so accustomed to Pepsi Cola's dark brown color, Bob McMath says, that when a colorless version was marketed, no one was interested.

He does not think green mayonnaise is going to succeed for the same reason. "And I don't think chocolate French fries are going to go," said Bob McMath. "I have not found anybody that really wants to even try them."

And then there are those products that manufacturers should have known from the start would never work. Jean McMath's favorite example is "the smokeless cigarette", which only appealed to people who would never buy cigarettes. "It was hard to light and it tasted terrible, and smokers like to be wreathed in smoke," she said. "All the things that smokers like about smoking, this cigarette did not provide except for the nicotine. It was a product that would be wonderful for those who don't like smoking, but there was nothing there for the smoker."

Failures are expensive. Jean McMath says it cost the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company $325 million to bring the smokeless cigarette to market.