Finalists for Product of the Year go before consumers

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NEW YORK — Product of the Year USA moved one step closer to selecting the year’s most unique and innovative products when a panel of judges narrowed the field of eligible items.

During the judging, the 30-member panel headed by Walgreen Co. chief innovation officer Colin Watts rated nearly 40 new products. A handful of products with the lowest scores were then removed from the competition.

The remaining items now go before consumers, with the research group TNS Research polling 100,000 households on their feelings about the new items. The winners will be announced in a ceremony here in early February.

That event will be hosted by Phil Lempert, who is known in industry circles as “the supermarket guru.” He is in his second year as Product of the Year spokesman.

The ongoing economic downturn, Lempert notes, has led shoppers to be more selective in their purchases, which has opened the door for retailers to benefit from novel products that fit an unmet need.

“Over the past 18 months we have seen a new shopper in stores — smarter, savvier and more equipped to buy what is right for them,” Lempert says. “They compare product attributes and prices online before they walk through a retailer’s door because these shoppers are relying more on word-of-mouth recommendations.

“While many web sites offer a handful of comments about a particular product, consumers are demanding more. That’s why the power of the Product of the Year Award is more important to brands than ever before.”

During the review of the products vying for Product of the Year honors, Walgreens’ Watts noted that the days of items with a broad consumer base are over. Rather, he said, suppliers are focusing on what Watts called “micro-segmentation.”

Manufacturers and marketers are becoming particularly adept at introducing items that understand shoppers’ needs, he noted.

And because it can be cost-prohibitive to create an entirely new brand, a growing number of suppliers are extending established brands into new categories, Watts pointed out.


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