“Mommy, where do babies come from?” The food industry's version of that question can be paraphrased: “From where do new product ideas come?” A response to either question is difficult.

For example, good ideas tend to be claimed by many “parents.” So, too, are new product trends. However, determining trend sources is an important task beyond simple pride of ownership. Determining the “next hot 'food fashion'” before a competitor does gives a company a crucial financial advantage.

So, from where do food trends come? A sound-byte response is “high-end restaurants.” While often true, the impact of this upon a food manufacturer's new product development initiatives is complex. For example, this years' “Prepared Foods R&D Survey: Culinary and Foodservice Product Development” asked R&D and marketing folks at food manufacturing companies “Where does your company get ideas for new foodservice products?” The top new product idea influencers (with no statistical difference) includes “Foodservice operator/customer request,” “Foodservice trade shows,” “Restaurants” and even “Trends noticed with grocery products.” Each was selected by some 55% to 59% of respondents.

Some may be surprised that new foodservice product ideas are garnered from grocery store aisles; however, case studies of individual trends may border on “scandalous.” For example, one speaker at this year's Prepared Foods' R&D Conference noted that pomegranate was a hot new flavor in restaurants. Previously, pomegranates had been a “hot trend” in the nutritional products industry, their popularity anchored in their high antioxidant content. Antioxidants, of course, long have been a hot trend in dietary supplements. Most would find it hard to believe that a culinary trend first initiated with “tasteless” dietary supplement pills, but there you have it.

As for “lowly” bench-top formulators running through formula permutations, meeting with suppliers, specifying ingredients and processes…well, they often do not know where ideas for their project originate. New product initiatives are passed from their R&D supervisors or the marketing brand manager or the corporate chef, and for a few poor souls, the wife (or husband) of the company president.

So, my advice is to enjoy fine dining restaurants which will generate new product ideas. However, also go to shows, listen to suppliers and customers, read the trade press and keep an open mind to trends originating from unlikely but creative places.

As to explaining from where babies originate, you are on your own.