Winners of the Product of the Year awards, a third-party endorsement programme that aims to help consumers find the best new products and services in the market while also recognising quality and innovation, were announced last week. This year SA had winners in just 18 categories, compared with more than 30 categories in the US.

Preetesh Sewraj, CEO and chief innovation analyst at Product of the Year SA, says these awards are a good barometer of the state of consumer innovation in SA. “We focus only on new products – products that have innovated in some way,” he explains. “Innovation has been hard hit by SA’s economic situation. Low consumer confidence and a negative ratings outlook have resulted in many companies reducing their innovation pipeline and focusing on their core lines.”

Sewraj says this is never ideal, as it translates into less choice for consumers. “The number of Product of the Year categories is testament to reduced innovation in the country. Rising cost pressure from imported raw materials will always be a challenge,” he says.

The reason so many more product categories are featured in the US, says Sewraj, is that US companies continue to invest heavily in innovation to keep competitors at bay. “US consumers demand constant innovation. The US is a developed market in which companies don’t have the option of diminishing their innovation pipeline,” he says, adding that US consumers have become so used to constant innovation that even if big brands stop innovating, they stand to lose market share to a myriad competitors.

SA, on the other hand, continues to struggle with the effects of the economic downturn, and consumers don’t challenge manufacturers sufficiently. “We need a culture change in which companies know that reducing innovation will equate to a loss of market share,” Sewraj says.

The results of the Product of the Year awards are based on endorsements from 4,000 consumer households and a survey by Nielsen. Finalists have to demonstrate innovation and must have had some development to their product between January 1 2016 and December 31 2017. This year winning brands included both local and international products.

The only repeat winner this year was Danone NutriDay in the Dairy (Heritage) category.  After winning this category last year it decided to innovate its prior winning product further. The result, says Sewraj, was a huge 91.2% innovation score.

One of the biggest surprise wins this year was Seatbelt Medic in the Safety category. “This is a SA product that is gaining huge traction in the market,” says Sewraj. “Seatbelt Medic acts as an information resource for paramedics when they deal with accident victims. The device allows people to save all their important medical data in a format that is easily accessible if they are ever in an emergency situation and unable to communicate with first responders.”

The full list of category winners includes: 

The big take-out:

Product innovation in SA has been hard hit by the economic downturn and consumers who don’t challenge manufactures to innovate enough.