Product Development Competitions: Steps to Success

New products are constantly popping up across the food retail space. It seems like almost every grocery aisle has a new product by the day. 

But how do these products make it to the shelves?

While at Cornell, we have both had the opportunity to get involved in product development (PD) competitions. You might be asking yourself, What is a product development competition?

Great question.

PD competitions are team-based projects where you are tasked with creating a new product from ideation to prototype. There is a wide range of activity that goes on to complete these projects ranging from market research to development to consumer testing.

Some competitions may also have themes or specified categories, which makes it a bit easier to hone in on potential product ideas and target markets.

Here are a few steps we take every time we start a new product development project:

1. Ideation

In this part of the process, it’s all about fielding ideas. It can range from brainstorming in group meetings to a more official google document. The most important part about this step is sharing ideas. Some members of the group may have fantastic insight on something you’ve never considered or never thought possible. Take this stage with a grain of salt and don’t be afraid to share something that’s a little outside the box. Sharing individual ideas also helps others on the team to get more creative. By the end of brainstorming, we find it best to have 1-3 ideas to move forward with.

2. Initial Feasibility

What’s next in the process is deciding if these ideas are actually realistic. Freezer-less ice cream may sound like a great idea but can it actually be made? And will people even like it? There are tons of important questions to ask at this point. Here are just a few that we find most helpful:

  • What will it take for this product to be made? Man-power? Specific equipment? Ingredients?
  • Who is are target consumer? Does our idea meet their needs/wants? What problem does this product solve?
  • Is this a completely new product? Or are we just re-inventing the wheel?

Towards the end of this step, we find it best to have your final direction on what you want to create. Things will definitely change along the way but the more focused you are at this point the easier it will be to move forward on the project.

3. Delegating Tasks

We have each worked on teams that have done this a bit differently. We find that the earlier you divide up what needs to be done, the quicker it will take form. It’s easy to forget this step but it’s extremely important! Also, don’t be afraid to take on a task that’s new to you! This is the purpose of these teams. Just because you don’t have any marketing experience doesn’t mean you won’t be able to deliver a fantastic logo and product slogan. Always be willing to try new things! That’s what this experience is all about–finding out what parts of the industry excite you and, more importantly, those that don’t.

4. Development

Time to start cooking! The next step of the process is formulation and product creation. We have already decided that our idea is somewhat reasonable. But now it’s time to see if this is the case from a technical perspective. Questions at this step might include:

  • What ingredients do we need? And in what quantities?
  • Are there any allergens that we want to avoid?
  • How is the product going to be made?
  • Do we have the equipment we need?
  • What are the major food safety considerations?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to create the product! This is one of the most time-consuming parts of the process. It takes time to get ingredients, test out recipes, finalize a formulation, and get to a final product. It can also can be the most rewarding if all goes according to plan and/or you create something that’s really unique and exciting. Alternatively, you might realize at this stage that your prototype is a complete failure and restart the ideation process if time permits.

5. Evaluation

The minimum viable product (MVP) is made. What’s next? Time to evaluate. Ask yourself:

  • Is this what we intended to make?
  • Does this product meet the competition guidelines and target market/product category?
  • What changes do we need to make?

Another important step in evaluation may include sensory testing. Collecting information from consumers allows you to learn things like if they liked the product, if they’d buy it, and potential changes they’d like to see.

To Recap:

Of course these five steps don’t include everything – this article is meant to give a high-level overview of some of the key parts of the development process. In general we’ve both really enjoyed being a part of PD competitions and have learned a lot about how to work through technical challenges as a team.

If you don’t have formal PD team’s at your school but want some tangible experience we recommend starting a club or getting together with your peers after school to practice. Any type of hands-on experience in a kitchen or lab will be valuable to an employer looking to hire a new grad in PD!

nonfiction food gradsNonfiction Food grads

Authors: Meg Marchuk and Cat Boyles Meg & Cat are both Master of Professional Studies (MPS) students in Food Science at Cornell University.

They are also the co-creators of Nonfiction Foods, a media platform aimed at bridging the gap between science and the foods we eat every day. Check it out!

Also, feel free to connect with them via email or LinkedIn!  Meg ( & Cat (

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