Article: A Helping Innovation: SOI Retail Awards -- October 2007
October 1, 2007
RW Delights had a straightforward goal: an upscale dessert prepared quickly and easily without sacrificing quality or taste. In addition, its Heavenly Soufflé would be all-natural and kosher, taking a product intimidating even to seasoned chefs and making it accessible to any consumer. The end product goes from the freezer to the table in 20 minutes and presented the developers with a variety of challenges. As the company’s owner, Wendy Friedmann, recalls, “The main challenge was creating a product where the batter could be frozen into ceramic ramekins and not affect the process of the egg whites expanding when baked, to create the perfect soufflé.”
While the company may be small, the innovative nature of the product and the teamwork involved in creating the item display the qualities inherent to the Spirit of Innovation Awards. However, the teamwork involved in the Heavenly Soufflés is somewhat unlike any seen among past winners. Previous recipients largely relied upon in-house departments to overcome the challenges in a product’s creation, while others saw vendors offer solutions and, on occasion, the entire concept behind the product. RW Delights would take a completely different route.
The company founders, Friedmannn and Roxanne Kam, are lifelong friends with a love of cooking but no formal background in the industry. “We both had very big careers,” Friedmann notes. “Mine was in sales and marketing in technology and publishing. Hers was accounting for large companies. (The soufflés) started as pretty much a hobby, and this was something that we would serve as dessert to friends. Eventually, we started to freeze it and, ultimately, like so many small businesses, someone suggested we bring it to market.”
Friedmann and Kam determined that they had an edge over certain other food company startups. “We hit upon a very good product idea,” Friedmann explains. “From a quality standpoint, we did a lot of testing for the right recipe, but we’re business people, who happen to have a very good product. So how we look at it is really from a business perspective. Others have had great ideas and started companies, but they were chefs or bakers or food hobbyists who did not have the business experience. So they ran into issues when it came to creating a company and how to take that company to the next level.”
Just AskThat is not to say that the expertise or knowledge of chefs, bakers and food experts is not integral to the product creation. In fact, Friedmann and Kam discovered they needed quite a bit of help throughout the process of product creation. However, unlike major companies, RW Delights does not have departments in different areas to offer solutions.
“As we’ve gone along,” Friedmann relates, “we’ve met different people. When we were doing our original testing, we had a baker helping us. The small, homegrown recipe has changed significantly. When it came time for the eggs, for instance, the American Egg Board (AEB) was a big help. Rather than hiring anyone in-house, it has been utilizing the expertise of other people and institutions. It has really been understanding that, though we had a great product, our expertise was not in the baking and the production; if we wanted to be able to bring this to market, we needed help.”
There began a series of efforts with a number of individuals and companies, as well as a lot of testing and iterations of the Heavenly Soufflés. When they first started a year-and-a-half ago, Friedmann and Kam rented kitchen space from a cooking school, The Artisan Baking Center. They would cook and experiment with their recipes from 6:30 in the evening until 3:00 in the morning. The pair did not want to invest everything they had in the venture. It was more a process of starting and seeing how the testing went.
Friedmann explains they tested the product “for four months solid and continuously, isolating each variable.” While that amount of time might seem quick to major companies, it is a distinct advantage for smaller entities. Yet these smaller companies have their own troubles, like locating and identifying suitable ingredient sources.
No Plain Vanilla“One of our challenges was vanilla,” says Friedmann. “When we first started our product, we used a vanilla that (Kam) had bought while she was traveling in Mexico. We had created a product that we really liked; however, then we could not find this particular brand, and we could not replicate it. We must have gone through 20 different vanillas.”
Friedmann notes particular assistance from the Artisan Baking Center. It served both as a resource and put them in touch with others in the industry who could offer help or ideas. Thanks to the group, RW Delights found the baker it would use and different resources around the country—be it suppliers or development assistance—people in the industry who would listen to ideas and offer advice and constructive criticism. They even helped with some sourcing, though the company notes it does most of the sourcing itself.
In addition to the issues of finding just the right vanilla, chocolate likewise proved troublesome. “We tried every chocolate we could think of—all the high-end chocolate—because we were looking not just for that flavor. We knew that when you freeze the product and re-cook it, it has to retain the texture. That chocolate for us was a very big thing.”
Friedmann and Kam found that much of their development was simple trial and error. It proved to be a detail-oriented, exacting process, they note. They would take each aspect of the product—everything from the freezing process to the ingredients—and work on each individually, even though they may have had all of the other aspects finalized.
Asked to identify a primary challenge, Friedmann quickly answers, “The eggs. One of the challenges of being a small company—and small bakers—came when trying to multiply the recipe. They do not grow evenly, the ingredients. So if you are using four yolks and eight whites, you can not multiply that by 40 for a larger recipe. There was a lot of trial and error on the egg side of how to get enough air using whites, but not making it too fluffy and not too dense. So, there was a lot of testing. AEB helped us to understand the properties of the eggs and why certain things reacted certain ways. They were very good.”
The assistance provided by AEB is just one resource Friedmann recommends for chefs, food scientists and other individuals seeking to start a business. “We called (AEB) on the phone, and they were there for us. A lot of resources are out there for people. The American Institute of Baking (AIB) has a lot of resources where you can just call and get an expert on the phone. AIB has its website, which is helpful, but you can call. I would phone a person there and tell him my specific issue, and an expert would call me back the same day. They would spend a lot of time on the telephone with me, and they talked to me a number of times.”
In one instance, Friedmann had a question about an issue with a distributor and a requirement from Whole Foods Market. A person at AIB spent 40 minutes on the phone with her and explained what Whole Foods wanted and talked her through the process and scenarios that others had been through. “The resources are out there. They are phenomenal, if you know how to find them.”
Package DeliveryThe package of the product proved an issue early in the development, and the duo selected ceramic ramekins as the delivery vehicle fairly soon in the process. “When we first developed it, we thought the ramekin was integral to the product,” Friedmann recollects. “Obviously, cooking in something that is ceramic will conduct heat differently than something in paper or plastic or metal. The ramekins convey a feeling of high-end, what people expect when getting a soufflé.”
Friedmann foresees producing refills for the ramekins in the near future, likely during 2008, but distribution is proving a challenge. The refill cannot be in a tube where it can be squeezed. RW Delights makes the batter and puts it directly in the ramekins and freezes it immediately. The more the batter is manipulated, the less air will be in it. Currently, Friedmann and Kam are working to find something to ship the refills and get the product into consumers’ hands, where they can get it into the ramekins without having to handle the batter too much.
They also are developing new flavors for the line. “One we are working on, which we had hoped would be our second flavor, but it has been a challenge, is the lemon soufflé,” laments Friedmann. “The problem is, once you introduce any type of citrus in the batter, it is going to separate upon freezing. We have been testing it probably for about a year. We have tried everything from emulsions to oils to actual lemon. How do you get that really tart, tangy fresh lemon flavor and not have it separate? The things that we are using that are not separating have that dull, fake lemon flavor. That is our challenge with the lemon soufflé. I have spoken to dozens of people asking for help.” It is that kind of teamwork and innovative spirit, as well as a willingness to recognize that innovation often requires asking for advice and support, that have helped make RW Delights a success
Stax TimeBreakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but many consumers simply refuse to take the time to eat in the morning, due in large part to other responsibilities occupying their attention. Cathead Foods sought to make breakfast much more convenient with Go Stax.
The line features an individual serving of buttermilk pancakes made with wheat flour and including buttermilk, real butter and pure maple syrup. Key to the creation of the frozen line is the patented combination of items in the butter/syrup patties in each box.
Butter and syrup have been formed into two pats of topping that melt over the pancakes during the one-minute microwave cooking time. Developers Tom and Julie Johnson “wanted alternatives to cold cereal, cardboard ‘breakfast’ bars or fast foods, yet which still met the need for speed in the mornings, when life is a little hectic,” Tom recalls. Another goal was for a “good meal starting the day that actually tasted good and was also nutritious.” The pancakes boast 4g of fiber and 4g of protein in each serving, as well as only 0.5g of trans fat. In fact, the developers note they are still tinkering with the formula to remove trans fat completely.
Realizing the value and innovation inherent in that butter-syrup-pancake-packaging combination, Cathead has gone on to patent the entire product. The effort was not without its challenges, the Johnsons recall. “Taste-testing several different formulae for butters, syrups, pancakes and packaging, trials and failures for the melting process led to the product which now achieves a natural maple sweetness.” In all, the company performed more than 2,600 taste tests before launch.
Beyond the formulation, the package proved a key component. “It had to be able to withstand microwaving without leaking any of the contents, yet still be strong enough to allow the consumer to eat it right from the box. As Cathead is a small company, developers also sought a hand-erected package, thereby negating the need for an expensive industrial case erector.
Commenting upon the unique nature of the product, Tom explains, “Go Stax are the only single-serve, self-contained, on-the-go breakfast item like it on the market, and…it continues to grow in both the retail and vending arenas.” The growth is having quite an impact on the small company; it has led Cathead to plan a packaging revision that will take advantage of automation in assembly.
2007 Spirit of Innovation Awards: Third Place Melting AwayCiting a survey finding 70% of Americans work through lunch or spend less than 10 minutes on a quick midday meal, Oscar Mayer launched Deli Creations Hot Sandwich Melts. The product is a “build-your-own” sandwich, complete with Oscar Mayer shaved meats, premium Kraft cheeses, specialty sauces and an innovative sub roll that heats in the microwave in 60 seconds.
Sydney Lindner, associate director of corporate affairs with Oscar Mayer, identified a number of different teams involved in the product. “The departments/functions involved in the product’s development were marketing, corporate information systems, R&D product and R&D package. To achieve the ultimate hot and melty sandwich, the team focused on recipe development. This meant endless hours researching ingredient combinations and gathering for bench-top experimentation and tasting sessions.”
After 12 months of testing, the teams had finished a successful product, which met with strongly positive consumer research reviews.