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

Managing Your Business
pizza toppings

When the FoodService Director editors first started tossing around the idea of an “influencers” issue, our minds immediately turned to, well, foodservice directors. After all, so much of the learning in this industry is a peer-to-peer experience, and it’s your influence that inspires the content in every single issue of this magazine.

Then we imagined the massive infighting that would occur if we tried to whittle ourselves down to a list of just 20 influential operators and thought better of it. There’s already enough arguing for us to do about which pizza toppings are best (...

Ideas and Innovation
granola bars

Where possible, we make grab-and-go items reimbursable. For example, if we’re serving a fruit and milk smoothie, we let students take a granola bar or other grain component to make it count as a meal.

Ideas and Innovation
unsung heroes graphic

Febin Bellamy, a senior at Georgetown University, is the founder of Unsung Heroes, a nonprofit that features service workers on college campuses in man-on-the-street-style Facebook interviews. This year, Bellamy is working with a dozen schools to launch their own chapters of the storytelling platform. Here’s what he’s learned about staff shoutouts.

Q: Why did you decide to start Unsung Heroes?

A: One day I started a conversation with a custodial worker in the business school that I would see all the time. I learned that we had a lot of similarities; for instance, we both wanted to...

Ideas and Innovation
bolognese sauce

We’re trying to bring scratch cooking to all the elementary schools, but we’re taking it dish by dish. Right now, we satellite a lot of the dishes out. This month we made a Bolognese from scratch, and went to each of the schools to talk to them about the process and see if they could implement it. It helps us find out the hurdles and what they are going to need to make it work.

FSD Resources