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

Menu Development
frozen raspberries

“As a chef, I pretty much have grown up through the business thinking that fresh was always better—produce, fish and meats, especially,” says Ryan Conklin, executive chef for UNC Rex Healthcare’s culinary and nutrition services. “But the more ‘re-educated’ I get, the more I’m learning that some frozen options may be more appropriate for me to be using on my menus.”

Right now, the perception of frozen foods doesn’t match the reality, especially for high-volume foodservice operators, says Conklin. Often, chefs and operators picture not-great product that’s been sitting in a block of...

Sponsored Content
Roasted Beet Salad Pickled Blueberries
From Blueberry Council.

What’s trending in the culinary world? The basics! According to the NRA, diners today are craving authenticity, simplicity and freshness on menus. But basic ingredients don’t have to lead to boring menu options.

It’s easy to fall into the latest craze to capture consumer attention and drive sales. But we’ve learned it’s not always about novelty. Instilling a feeling of nostalgia and familiarity by using well-known and well-loved ingredients in new, experimental dishes can lead to an increase in adventurous dining decisions, while staying in your customers’...

Managing Your Business
umass amherst food

Restaurateurs in Amherst, Mass., aren’t happy with UMass Dining .

Registered dietitian Dianne Sutherland told local NBC affiliate WWLP News in May that the high quality of food served on campus means students aren’t visiting neighborhood eateries as frequently as those businesses might like.

“Even our vendors who we work with, they get complaints from the restaurants that students are staying on campus,” she said. “They are already paying for the food; why should they [go] off campus to eat?” More than 19,000 Amherst students are on a meal plan—6,000 of whom live off campus...

Ideas and Innovation
lettuce eat dining

Forced to battle crumbling infrastructure and a constant churn of trends, sometimes the best way to save a foodservice operation is to change it entirely. As Steve Mangan, director of dining at the University of Michigan, puts it, “At some point when your building starts to fail, the cost of maintenance stands out.” But for operators with limited budgets, the challenge is discerning the right time to do so—and how far to take it.

At Jefferson High School, change came because little worked anymore. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, school’s cafeteria hadn’t been updated since 1957; students...

FSD Resources