Variant management

A huge challenge with products that span a number of variants is how many variants you need and how to keep them selling uniformly across the range. Production managers won’t like you if one of your products has to be made in small batches at irregular intervals. It’s not just expensive because of tooling and materials handling, items gathering dust in a warehouse are a misuse of capital.

Variants: a tough choice

Number of variants: often a tough choice

But in markets shaped by variety or habitual purchase, customers want choice. So typically a hair styling range will have 5 to 7 variants. But how often do you see all variants in full display on shop shelves? Almost never. Shops soon work out which ones sell best and delist the others. So with this hairspray, I’ve yet to see the Level 1 hold on sale. It’s a similar story with lots of multi-variant ranges.

I’ve encountered a similar issue in food markets where there are multipacks. One example: barbecue dips with four flavours. The problem here is that the pack is joined. So even if one of the flavours is always left untouched at the garden party, it has to be produced (and thus sold) in the same quantity as the others. This can result in resistance in production, and put off potential customers who know 25% of their money is wasted. It’s similar with multipack savoury snacks. One section almost always remains uneaten.

Green ice cream, what flavour?!

Green ice cream, what flavour?!


Things get worse in international markets. Producing a multipack food for several countries is a nightmare because food tastes vary massively across cultures, more so than many other consumer markets. So when I recently saw these ice pops from Lidl, I immediately spotted the flavour they’ll struggle with in the UK.

Lidl produces multilingual products in lots of sectors now. But one of its leading ice cream or jelly flavours in Germany is almost unknown in other countries: waldmeister. Yes, that’s woodruff in English. Never heard of it? Nor have most English people. And it’s certainly a name I never expected to see in English on packaging. What a waste of a variant.

Alex Woodruff

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