What new food and beverage product innovation workshops would research chefs and food technologists most like to attend?
This question was recently posed to almost 800 research chefs and food technologists in a survey sponsored by The Food Innovation Institute™. The results are listed below ranked from the most requested workshop to the least requested – and with some surprising findings.
1. Hispanic Product Innovation 56.5%
2. Ready-to-Eat/Heat Convenience Meals 52.1%
3. The Business of Food Innovation 52.1%
4. Snack Sandwich/Appetizer Product Innovation 39.1%
5. Natural Organic Product Innovation 34.7%
6. Sandwich Product Innovation 30.4%
7. BBQ Product Innovation 30.4%
8. Food Packaging Innovation 26.0%
9. Sandwich Product Innovation 21.7%
10. Entrée Leafy Salad Product Innovation 21.7%
At first I was surprised that Hispanic product innovation ranked No. 1, but after some reflection I understood the interest. For four years as VP Product Development at Churchs Chicken, my team was focused like a razor on Hispanic product innovation. The reason for our focus was simple, Hispanics represented almost 50 percent of Churchs consumer demographics – and up to 85 percent in some Mexican border markets.
I thought Churchs was unique in its interest in Hispanic food products, but the results from The Food Innovation Institute show me that the interest is widespread across many chains because our countrys demographics are sifting dramatically toward Hispanic consumers.
My second surprise was the interest in Ready-to-Eat/Heat Meal Innovation because most chains do not sell prepared meals. Retail grocery and convenience stores have taken the lead in marketing prepared meals. My prior experience with prepared meals started when I was asked to lead a team charged with developing a new retail store concept called The Ultimate Boston Market in Charlotte, N.C., more than 10 years ago. Boston Market lost the thought leadership in this area when it slipped into bankruptcy, then the momentum shifted to retail grocery and convenience chains. In my opinion, the dominate leader of Ready-to-Eat/Heat Meals has been the WAWA organization.
The third surprise was the interest in a workshop called The Business of Food Innovation. Since most of the other requested innovation workshops represented hands-on recipe development exercises, I thought a class on the business of new product innovation processes and culture change would be least interesting. But it appears that research chefs and food technologists want to understand food innovations best practices. This shows me that these people are creative innovators to their core, and that the senior leadership of many restaurant chains have a long ways to go to create a culture of food innovation.
A forth area of interest was natural and organic food innovation. The interest level in this topic reflects the growing general population interest in organic foods. I have lived in the Denver-Boulder, Colo.-area for 15 years and watched the rapid rise in Wild Oats, Naturally Boulder, Coleman Natural Meats, and many other private entrepreneur small businesses that develop, market, and sell natural and organic foods. Naturally Boulder has become a relatively large organization with an annual food fair and symposium. I also believe the time has arrived to promote more natural and organic menu items in restaurants. Chipotle has taken the local lead by selling more naturally raised meat than any other chain.
And the last area of surprise was the relatively large interest in innovative new packaging. The packaging industry has been very innovative in recent years, but these results may reflect the interests by research chefs and food technologists to pair unique packaging with innovative new products. Packaging is usually one of the first areas to take the brunt of corporate cost cutting knives, but maybe we need to do the opposite and focus on more packaging innovation.
So now we know what the creative minds of research chefs and food technologists are thinking as they begin each day on their job developing new innovative food and beverage products that consumers are waiting for.Share