A food industry study designed to resolve a growing controversy between supermarkets and food manufacturers may only aggravate the quarrel over who should bear the cost of stocking grocery store shelves with the thousands of new food products introduced yearly.

Released yesterday, the study seeks to address the problem of squeezing a seemingly endless flow of new products into a limited amount of supermarket shelf space.

For the past decade, the shelf space has remained relatively constant. However, more than 10,000 new food products are introduced annually -- creating such a fierce battle for this shelf space that many retailers in recent years have been demanding special fees just to accept new products. Manufacturers contend that the fees, which in some cases run as high as $30,000 for each new flavor of a product, are unfair and unreasonable. Even so, eager to get their products in the store, many pay the big bucks.

The new study -- a joint undertaking by six trade associations that represent retailers and manufacturers -- was designed to determine if these controversial fees, called slotting allowances in the industry, are justified.

But the findings may only stir up the controversy, with each side using them to defend its case for or against the allowances.

What's more, the study could well end up creating an additional fee in the increasingly competitive store-admission process. For the first time, the study shows that supermarkets bear significant costs when they discontinue an item -- a step that must be taken to make room for a new product. As a result, some food industry officials predict grocery chains may start imposing a failure fee for which manufacturers would have to pay retailers if a new product is dropped because it doesn't meet sales projections. Some supermarkets executives, estimating that 80 percent of all new products fail within the first year, had been waiting for this study to determine if they should impose failure fees.

Exactly what manufacturers now pay retailers to get their new products on store shelves is hard to determine, largely because few food manufacturers and retailers want to talk about slotting fees, let alone disclose the amount being paid, citing competitive reasons. Additionally, slotting allowances vary greatly not only from store to store and from product to product but also from region to region, with the northeast noted for the highest fees.

Privately, however, food industry executives say slotting allowances can range from as low as $1,000 to as high as $30,000 for each new flavor of each new product. In the Washington area, officials say the fees are on the lower end of the scale, between $3,500 and $5,000.

According to the just-released study, slotting fees are only part of the costs incurred in getting a new product to market. After surveying 20 new products that were introduced in 1988, the study found that across the entire food chain -- from manufacturer to broker and wholesaler and finally to retailer -- it costs an average $252 to bring a single new product to a one supermarket. With nearly 31,000 supermarkets in the country, the cost of introducing a new product nationwide could amount to close to $8 million.

The manufacturer, understandably, bears the brunt of the cost -- an average $222.12 per item per store. Of that amount, nearly half -- or $103 -- is used to promote the product directly to consumers through advertisements, coupons, etc.

Research and development accounts for less than 7 percent of the total, or an average of $15, while more than twice that, an average of $36.34, is allotted for special deals and allowances given to retailers, wholesalers and food brokers. This could include a wide range of special payments, from slotting allowances to advertising money for the store to promote the new product to special introductory offers, such as a free case of the product for every case the store purchases.

On the retailing side, the costs of bringing a new product to market are, as to be expected, considerably less -- an average $13.51 per new item. However, based on a survey of 21 discontinued products, it costs the stores considerably more to delete an old product to make room for the new one. Including the loss incurred from marking down a discontinued product to move it quickly off the shelves, it costs a store an average $16.11 to eliminate an item.

Manufacturers, on the other hand, bear a relatively small cost in removing a product -- only an average of $3.94 per item per store.

"As a result of this study, people will stop questioning whether retailers have significant costs" in introducing new products, said Tim Hammonds, senior vice president of the Food Marketing Institute, which represents the supermarket industry and was one of the associations undertaking the study. "We now have documented there are significant costs of putting in a new product," he added.

What's more, he said, "retailers are at the end of the fire hose," as they review thousands of new products yearly. "Prior to 1981, the average number of new products introduced was 2,500 a year. This year, more than 12,000 items of dry groceries {that's not including the increasingly active dairy and frozen food cases} are expected to be introduced and dry grocery shelf space hasn't increased" he said.

As a result, Hammonds said, the costs of accepting new products add up quickly and can be substantial. Per store, the cost comes to an averaged total of $29.62, according to the study. If there are 100 stores in the chain that amounts to almost $3,000 per item for the entire company.

Even so, other food industry officials argue that the study still does not support the case for slotting allowances. "The main thing that the study does, as I see it, is that it eliminates the cost justification for slotting fees," said Frank Dell, president of Dellmart & Co., a management consulting firm to food companies. "They are not cost justified, no where near the $30,000" that is being charged by many retailers, he commented.

In fact, he added, supermarkets "are more than compensated" for their costs by the special introductory deals that come with a new product. Manufacturers "offer very lucrative promotions or incentives for the distributor, wholesaler or retailer to bring a new product in."

Nonetheless, Dell noted that the deletions costs incurred by the retailer are substantially higher than he had expected. "I didn't think it would be more than about $1 per store," he said. As a result, he said, he sees the potential support for a failure fee system.

That concerns the Grocery Manufacturers of America, which represents food manufacturers and processors and was another of study's sponsors. "As an industry we are opposed to and discouraged by any attempts to create a penalty management process and I consider failure fees penalty management because it focuses on failure rather than success," says Patrick Kiernan, GMA's vice president of industry relations.

Overall, Kiernan said, his concern is not failure fees or slotting fees specifically but the total costs involved in getting a new product to market. "I'm surprised at how high they are... . Clearly a large amount of money is needed to bring new items out. Frankly that makes us concerned about about where the new innovative items will come from. Usually it is the little entrepreneurial companies" that develop these products. But these companies don't have the deep financial pockets to support the introduction costs, Kiernan continued. "If you don't make this process more efficient, where does the next Orville Redenbacher come from?"

That question, more than the specific controversy over slotting allowances and failure fees, is what Kiernan hopes the food industry will begin to address as a result of the study, especially as thousands more new products will be introduced annually to meet Americans' new health and lifestyle demands.

"There will be some exciting debate," Kiernan says. "It's just beginning."