Kraft Foods (Northfield, Ill.) has had its DiGiorno line of frozen pizzas on store shelves for years, and the marketing of the product has emphasized the restaurant quality from the home oven. In fact, “It's not delivery. It's DiGiorno” has been one of the few truly successful marketing taglines in recent years. Yet consumers regard that message as a promise, which might have prompted some manufacturers to play it safe with line extensions.

However, Kraft took it as something of a challenge. After all, food manufacturers have tried for decades to produce high-quality baked goods that maintain their flavor profiles and mouthfeels out of the microwave. The daunting aspect for Kraft developers was simple: decades of effort by numerous companies have yielded limited success. Bread products out of the microwave, in particular, tend to tread dangerously close to tough, chewy and dry. While crusts often harden and tend to lack flavor, the edges become dry and overcooked, as the crust bottom becomes soggy. Further complicating matters for Kraft's team of developers, the toppings cook differently in the microwave.

The developers were determined, however, and their efforts led Prepared Foods' judges to recognize the company, its product and, most importantly, the development teams with this year's Spirit of Innovation Award-Retail. The goal for Kraft's innovators would seem simple enough: eliminate the need for the consumer to pre-heat the oven and cut the baking time to little more than a few minutes. Both of those traits are hallmarks of rising-crust, oven-baked, frozen pizzas which have been on the market for a number of years. These may have begun to challenge take-out and delivery restaurants, but Kraft's group was aware of the potential market that could be gained by making such products even more convenient for the consumer.

A Micro-cosm

Bringing that quality to a microwaveable product led Kraft’s developers to design packaging and the pizza itself specifically for the microwave. Patent pending and proprietary technologies were required to solve many of the problems developers encountered. The pizza crust had to be specially formulated to rise, bake and brown in the microwave, while also remaining moist and tender after cooking. In addition, Kraft sources sauce, cheese, meat, vegetables, all ingredients, which “perform optimally in the microwave,” notes Keith Petrofsky, program leader with Kraft.

The new product also would require input from packaging experts at Kraft. This ultimately would result in the design of a unique susceptor cooking tray and crisping ring to produce a crispy crust and rim, while reducing the uneven cooking problems which have plagued so many attempts at microwaveable products.

As Petrofsky explains, the development effort behind the DiGiorno Microwave Rising Crust Pizza was cross-functional in every step of the process–from product conception and development through commercialization. “During initial development,” he recalls, “functional technology experts partnered with product and packaging developers to eliminate the separation between basic research, product development and packaging development. The team’s broad diversity of experience increased the level of innovation and dramatically reduced the risk of any communication or development gaps along the way.”

The development process saw the pizza team utilize a holistic approach, leveraging the collective work on the crust, toppings and susceptor technologies. Simple brainstorming chat sessions were not enough for these developers. Instead, the groups participated in scheduled work sessions which brought the team into the lab to test, taste and combine new developments. As Petrofsky notes, “The team’s unique style not only created rapid progress toward breakthrough solutions, but also created a unique camaraderie and team spirit that enabled the entire team to participate in scale-up and commercialization.”

Such flexibility on the part of all team members proved invaluable in the creation of the DiGiorno Microwave Rising Crust Pizza and served to create a “whatever it takes” attitude among all participants–from packaging to research to marketing to food technologists. “At any given time,” Petrofsky relates, “team members shifted priorities outside of their normal job responsibilities to help where needed. For example, packaging developers helped with bakery trials. Research experts assisted packaging line trials, and marketing leads helped during critical pilot plant productions.”

Raising the Barn

Petrofsky likens the team's collaboration to a barn-raising, where everyone joined together to complete the job, regardless of what each's traditional role may have been. Furthermore, at each point in the process, every team member's input was encouraged and considered equally. Such a close relationship among various teams might lead some to suspect logjams of opinions, creating potential conflict, which would have been disastrous considering the parameters that had been established for the new microwaveable pizza. “Because of the aggressive timeline and goals for the project,” recalls Petrofsky, “the senior leaders of R&D and the pizza divisions cleared hurdles for the team by making quick decisions, freeing resources when needed, and providing a high degree of autonomy for the team to execute under the fluid project demands.”

Those demands would not end with the commercialization phase, as the team emphasized contingency planning, all efforts to assure no complications resulting from the seemingly unavoidable Murphy's Law scenarios that can entangle so many promising starts. While the uniqueness of the product and its packaging assured the end result would be unprecedented, this also meant it may face troubles that no other product had endured to date. “When the team came across hurdles that seemed insurmountable,” Petrofsky explains, “diligent testing, fluid adaptation and experienced judgment helped manage risks and allowed the team to focus their efforts on the broader execution goals.”

Rare is the product that so clearly displays input from various departments within a company. Certainly, those efforts always are key to the end product, but they may or may not be easily identifiable in the end product. One look at the DiGiorno Microwave Rising Crust Pizza, its promise and its packaging, and it is easy to see the multiple disciplines involved. While some may be more noticeable, especially considering the susceptor cooking tray and crisping ring which prove essential to the end product, the others cannot go ignored. Kraft has managed to create a product that not only delivers on the promise of that powerful brand, but that serves as a stellar example of the teamwork essential to innovation-recognition of which is the very essence of the Spirit of Innovation Awards.

The 2005 Spirit of Innovation Awards

The Spirit of Innovation Awards recognize and celebrate exceptional product development teams for their work on exciting new products. The awards are based on Prepared Foods' and Ventura Foods' (City of Commerce, Calif.) fierce commitment to the concept that innovation is one part pioneering ideas and one part inspirational teamwork. Categories for the Spirit of Innovation Awards are foods for sale in retail (grocery) stores and prepared foods for sale to foodservice operations, the latter of which will be revealed in the November issue of Prepared Foods and at the New Products Conference in Naples, Fla., in October.

A Prepared Foods panel reviewed nominated products, judging each on the following criteria:

  • The obvious need for coordination among several of a company's departments and vendors, as evidenced by the complexity of a product,

  • Ingenuity of the product's concept (which also may include packaging elements),

  • Sensory quality of the food or beverage,

  • The completed commercial launch of the product into the retail or foodservice distribution channel,

  • Willingness of the company to work with Prepared Foods in regards to editorial efforts and 2004 New Products Conference attendance activities.

    The award includes a donation of $2,500 to a university chosen by the winner. Each winning team receives one free registration and accommodations to Prepared Foods' New Products Conference, where they will receive their Ventura Foods'-sponsored award during an awards dinner. Brief presentations also will be made on the challenges and triumphs during the products' development. For more information on attending the New Products Conference, contact Marge Whalen, 630-694-4349 or e-mail

    Beginning in March of next year, nominations for the 2006 Spirit of Innovation Awards may be submitted by a company or a vendor on its behalf. Entry forms and further details may be found on the Spirit of Innovation section of Prepared Foods' website. Visit and click on “Spirit of Innovation” on the left menu, or contact William Roberts, 630-694-4348 or e-mail

    2nd Place: Pringles Prints

    Generating genuine excitement among consumers is both challenging and rewarding. While it may require a complete overhaul of an established product or a completely original effort demanding the input of multiple disciplines, it also can be something simple, something which seemingly could have been there all along.

    Such was the case when Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati) developers opted to add fun and excitement to its Pringles line by incorporating trivia questions and answers on each chip. Each Pringles' Prints chip is decorated with food coloring to form various questions and answers. Each has a different question and answer, making each experience unique and exciting, Procter & Gamble assures.

    The messages run the gamut from trivia (What vegetable shares its named with a sport? A. Squash) to riddles (What kind of shoe sounds lazy? A. A loafer) but has the potential to venture into marketing territory, promoting upcoming games, products or events.

    As Gary Dechert, senior product development engineer with Procter & Gamble, explains, there was something of an ulterior motive behind creating such an original feeling among the consumers. “The printing technology provides a truly unique conceptual breakthrough within a category that traditionally carries low loyalty and is disproportionately shopped based on the strength of in-store fundamentals (price, display, etc.).”

    While substrate decoration is not new to the Procter & Gamble family of products, its re-application to the food industry was not without its challenges. Food-grade equipment and compatible food colorings created technical challenges for team members to overcome.

    The final step in the process saw the branding/marketing organization bring the concept to life for consumers which, considering this was the first such application in food, was more of a challenge than might be expected. As Dechert recalls, insightful artwork design combined with media copy and buzz to achieve “great in-market results.”

    Bringing such an intriguing concept, one with vast possibilities, to the food industry, while meeting various technical demands, prompted Prepared Foods' judges to recognize Pringles Prints with a second place award in this year's Spirit of Innovation competition.

    3rd Place: Oh Boy! Oberto Beef Jerky Crisps

    Remember the kid in high school who everyone knew but had little to no social interaction with the other students? Nothing seemed particularly off but, still, that kid went largely ignored by the rest of the school.

    Meat snacks often seem like that poor soul of the snack category. Sure, when there is a reunion or folks revisit the category for an in-depth analysis, meat snacks are mentioned but, by and large, they go unnoticed for much of the industry as a whole. Generally preferred by males, meat snacks have a household penetration of less than 25%. Meanwhile, the cool kids, traditional salty snacks, have over 90% household penetration.

    So, what's a meat snack company to do in order to generate notoriety and attention for its innovation? For Oberto Sausage Co. (Kent, Wash.), the answer was simply to break out of its shell: create a meat snack that crosses the boundary into another area of the snack category.

    Oh Boy! Oberto Beef Jerky Crisps attempt to create a new category bridging the gap between meat snacks and traditional salty snacks/potato chips. While Oh Boy! is a full-flavored snack, it also promises consumers a salty, crunchy snack high in protein and low in fat. Oberto promises a product more “snack-like” and less “jerky-like.”

    While high-schoolers may despise the idea of a “poser,” Oberto is hoping consumers as a whole have moved beyond such simplistic labels. For their daring attempt to cross boundaries, Prepared Foods' Spirit of Innovation judges lauded Oh Boy! Oberto Beef Jerky Crisps with the third place award on the retail side.