A Tale of Two Purposes
When marketing analytical instruments to food safety scientists, decide which of two different purposes they fill for your audience: discovery or routine testing. In discovery, instruments are research tools, pushing boundaries to develop new products, for addressing threats to health and safety, or to validate theories or assumptions. In routine testing, instruments are principally used to automate existing methods of analysis.
Although both purposes appeal to scientists, they are two totally different markets. Routine testing is usually time- and regulation-sensitive, and is often directly related to generating revenue. The time frame for research applications is longer than routine testing, and it does not always relate directly to revenue generation. An example of the former would be a contract testing lab using an instrument for chemical residue testing, while the latter could be an instrument purchased for a government-funded study for a new drug.
Both sets of customers purchasing this equipment are looking for results, and the instruments are a means to an end. We can categorize the purchase criteria by application, as seen in the table below.
Analytical Instrumentation Purchase Criteria for Research vs. Routine Applications
|Purchase Criteria – Research||Purchase Criteria - Routine|
|Performance (sensitivity, repeatability, software for analysis of results)||Performance (sensitivity, repeatability, software for analysis of results)products, minimize risk, control compliance costs.|
|Extensible software capability for analysis of results||Throughput (Time to Results, or TTR)|
|Sample handling flexibility||Connectivity to higher level data systems (LIMS)|
|Cost||Total cost of ownership|
|References/reputation||Service (uptime, cost, availability)|
|Availability||Approved method use, references/reputation|
The Routine Market in Food Safety
Since research is a smaller portion of the market in food safety, let’s focus on the purchase criteria for the routine food safety market. Food production and processing companies work with a highly perishable product in large volumes, and one of the primary concerns is the time to result for a test.
In testing for contaminants, some food companies will quarantine and hold the product until the test results are complete, then release the product into distribution. Other companies will release the product into distribution while waiting for the results, and anticipate that the results will come back before the product reaches the consumer.
The closer the product gets to the consumer, the higher the recall cost if there is a contamination issue. Test times vary depending on the contaminant of interest. Physical contaminants can be detected in real time on the processing or packaging line.
Chemical contaminants can be typically tested in a day, while microbiological contaminants have to be enriched or grown to a detectable level (which can take 24 hours or more). Besides contaminant testing, there are also qualitative tests for attributes like moisture, fat, or protein.
While food may come in many shapes and sizes, it is either a solid or a liquid. One would think that liquids (such as beverages, soups and slurries) would be easier to test since they all go through a pipe, but sampling presents a wide range of challenges in liquid testing.
The bottom line is that the faster a company can get testing results, the better.
Regulatory Compliance and Approved Methods
Food production and processing facilities are regulated and inspected by government agencies, including the FDA and the USDA. As part of the regulations, these facilities are required to use approved methods for analysis as prescribed in the FDA BAM or the USDA FSIS guidelines. The AOAC is an independent organization that is the gold standard for method development and approval in the food and related industries.
Most food production companies outsource their testing to contract testing labs, and they are the primary market of routine testing equipment outside the regulatory agencies themselves.
Why don’t food production companies have their own analytical testing labs? In fact, the decision to invest in a lab goes beyond the cost of the facility, the instrumentation, and the reagents and consumables. Sourcing, training, and retaining lab personnel remain a challenge to food companies that are concerned with adding overhead to their production costs.
Most food production companies have some level of internal testing associated with quality control. The complexity and cost of analytical instruments are barriers to adoption. Contract testing labs offer the expertise and infrastructure to process samples quickly and competently, and they are a large purchaser of analytical instrumentation.
How Innovation Influences Instrument Appeal
Innovation offers the possibility for instrument manufacturers to differentiate themselves from the competition. It should be mentioned that scientific buyers are by their very nature skeptical of claims around performance, of disruptive technology, and new methods of analysis.
For the routine application market, an instrument that is a direct replacement or addition to an existing instrument and that uses proven and qualified methods will be easier to sell.
On the other hand, an instrument that uses a new method, application, or technology that has not been validated will be harder to sell.
While there will be some early adopters, it generally takes time for innovation to be accepted by this market. It’s critical to establish a foothold in the routine testing market with a “lighthouse” or thought-leading customer — ideally through a key opinion leader (KOL) strategy — whose reputation can be leveraged to access other clients.
Key Players in the Market
While not a complete list, here are some of the key providers of analytical instrumentation to the food safety market:
|Instrument Provider||Types of Instrumentation|
|Agilent||LC, GC, Mass Spec|
|Charm Sciences||ATP, Allergen|
|Danaher||HPLC/MS, Flow Cytometry, Microscopy, Microplate Readers, Rapid Microbiology Platforms|
|Foss Analytical||Moisture, Fat, Protein Analyzers|
|Hygiena||ATP, Rapid Microbiology Platforms|
|Mettler Toledo||Weighing instruments, Titrators, Density, TA|
|Neogen||Rapid Microbiology Platforms, ATP|
|Thermo Fisher Scientific||Too numerous to mention|
|3M||Rapid Microbiology Platforms, ATP|
Marketing analytical products to the food industry is complicated by the nature of the food products (the matrix), approval requirements, approved methods of analysis requirements, cost pressures, and the resistance to change. Nonetheless, the food industry remains an attractive market because of its longevity (people will always need safe food).
And of course, there’s the higher purpose of serving the greater good. The global population continues to grow, and feeding humanity with diminishing resources will be a challenge in the future, making the need for science and automation greater than ever.
If you need help with creating and executing food safety marketing strategies, contact us for a 30-minute consultation.