Traveling the New Product Pipeline


Food companies are increasingly working with restaurant operators to create custom products. Understanding the process can help facilitate the customization partnership. Robert Danhi, a research chef and culinary consultant specializing in Asian cuisine, has developed menu products for both restaurants and suppliers. Danhi leads us through the seven R&D steps, which can take anywhere from a month to a year to complete.


Jot down ideas. To end up with one product, I make a list of 10 detailed ideas to discuss with the client.


Pare down the list. We zero in on three to five ideas that are different enough from each other. Then I take each item and develop several variations. A spring roll, for example, is broken into its components—wrapper, filling, sauce, etc. I provide a few options for each component to maximize flexibility.


Create a protocept. This is a physical sample that looks, feels and tastes like the product that will be delivered to a restaurant kitchen and/or set before a guest. After some trial and error, I usually present about five protecepts for evaluation. The feedback from taste testers ranges from “I want the sauce a little thicker” to “it’s too messy to eat out of hand.”


Make up benchtop samples. Working from the accepted protocepts, I use ingredients that can be sourced in quantity from approved suppliers. For example, instead of using an 8-ounce jar of sauce, I’ll purchase the sauce in foodservice-size pails like a manufacturer would use in a plant.


Scale up. The product is brought to the manufacturer’s floor for a plant trial with the restaurant team in attendance. Even though a lot of time and money is invested in benchtop samples, the reality is that the window of acceptability may change once you scale up production.


Go into test market. Plant trial samples are sent to one or more restaurant locations to make sure they work operationally in the kitchen and front of house.


Full scale-up. The product goes into full production run and is put on the menu. Although this is the final step in R&D, the process is not over. Both manufacturer and operator should revisit the product after it’s up and running on the menu to see how it’s functioning. More tweaking is sometimes needed. 


Product introductions


Many consider restaurants to be on the cutting edge of eating trends, but when it comes to new products, retail often leads the charge. Take the case of trans fat-free oils, notes Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, a trends forecasting company based in Portland, Oregon. They first appeared on supermarket shelves, and it wasn’t until restaurants jumped on their suppliers to get the oils and shortenings that they were produced in large enough quantities.


Mintel Menu Insights in Chicago tracks both retail and foodservice trends. These are the numbers for U.S. product launches between January and September, 2007.



Beverages:
1,651

Bakery:
1,468

Sauces & seasonings:
1,378

Confectionary:
1,160

Snacks:
1,198

Meals (Entrees):
1,008

Processed fish, meat & egg products:
740

Desserts & ice cream:
657

Dairy:
680

Spreads:
396

Total number of new products:
11,748 


Cuisines to watch


American Express MarketBrief reports that Italian, Chinese and Mexican remain the top three preferences among the dining public. But other global cuisines are gaining favor. More diners named Indian and Sushi as appealing choices in 2007 vs. 2006. And when asked what they would like to try in the future, Caribbean, Moroccan and Spanish were mentioned most often.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
smoothie

Nurses often mention that at 2 p.m. they are dragging and just trying to get through their 12-hour shift. This winter I will be implementing a 2 p.m. pick-me-up, which will include a smoothie station where they can create their own smoothie to help get them through their shift. It will be filled with energy-boosting ingredients to personalize their own drink, such as bananas, almonds, spinach and even dark chocolate.

Ideas and Innovation
chili

Winter is when our guests frequently crave something comforting and hearty, and chili is great for that. Our plan is to boost guest engagement this winter by inviting them to design a unique chili experience. The guest chooses the type of chili first, then the vessel: bowl, bread or potato. Next, they customize their dish even further by choosing the toppings, which will be categorized as traditional, creamy, crunch or heat. The wild card, crunch and heat categories, are where my team and I will flex our creativity and highlight different flavors, ingredients or techniques.

Ideas and Innovation
new year party

In search of inspiration for this letter, I turned to the one I wrote for January 2017, in which I griped about some trends I wanted to toss in the new year. Twelve months later, the Sriracha trend has calmed down, food trucks seem slightly less pervasive and, while the definition of “clean” eating continues to evolve, it’s not so laser-focused on GMOs. So it seems my predictions were correct, including the one about where I’d be eating on New Year’s Day (though I had no clue my now-fiance would propose to me that night over duck noodle soup).

However, since this year has been...

Industry News & Opinion

Dining hall workers at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., have been asked to remove stickers worn in protest of working conditions at the school’s dining halls, The Stanford Daily reports.

School officials say that the stickers with the statement “Respect and a Fair Workload” go against a union-university agreement that states union members may not wear “insignia [with] any message that is vulgar, profane, or disparaging of Stanford, or that results in conflict or disruption in the workplace.”

In a conversation with The Daily, Seth Leibson, senior organizer for SEIU...

FSD Resources