On the Rise
Spirit of Innovation Award--Retail Winner:
Kraft Foods for DiGiorno Ultimate Focaccia

More than a decade ago, developers at Kraft Foods virtually reinvented the frozen pizza category with the introduction of rising crust technology and the DiGiorno line. The company’s developers have not rested on those laurels, however, and have continued to augment the segment with new interpretations and varieties. Their latest endeavor would take frozen pizza crust into an entirely new area.

The DiGiorno Ultimate Focaccia Crust Pizza was the result, combining two Italian favorites: classic pizzeria-style pizza and traditional Italian bread into what the company describes as an entirely new pizza-eating experience.

As Sherren Harter, senior associate brand manager of DiGiorno Pizza, explains, “We developed DiGiorno Ultimate Focaccia--the first of its kind in the frozen pizza category--to provide consumers with a new option to buy restaurant-quality, super-premium pizza in their grocery store and enjoy at home. DiGiorno Ultimate Focaccia offers a unique focaccia bread crust and more sophisticated flavor combinations, and we expect this innovative product to help grow the frozen pizza category.”

The entire concept started with that focaccia crust. “Traditional focaccia bread is a flat, Italian bread made with olive oil that is often topped with herbs or other items, which has experienced a resurgence, as premium, artisan breads are a growing trend in restaurants,” notes Sydney Pham, scientist with Kraft Foods. “Inspired by this trend in artisan breads, the team created a thick, light and airy crust that is crispy on the outside and soft and bread-like on the inside.”

“One of the biggest challenges was to deliver a true focaccia texture for the crust dough,” recalls Paul Mankowski, associate director of Research, Development and Quality with Kraft’s Pizza division, “which we solved by using proprietary Kraft technologies. Another key challenge was delivering the product in the short timeline. This was achieved through project management best practices of pilot plant development, followed by scale-up to the manufacturing facility.”

Extra virgin olive oil, a blend of cheeses and Italian herbs are mixed into the dough, which is baked and topped with additional Italian herbs and cheeses. However, developers focused on more than the crust; they also added more flavor to the pizza, through the addition of a seasoning blend to top the crust, which is specially selected to compliment the toppings of each pizza variety. The line launched in March 2008 in four varieties: Supreme with Roasted Vegetables is atop a Parmesan focaccia crust, while the Meat Trio’s crust is topped with roasted garlic; Four Cheese has a sun-dried tomato and basil crust, and Pepperoni with Spicy Red Pepper Flakes sits atop an Asiago focaccia crust. To further the premium positioning, Kraft developers topped the pizza with such premium ingredients as a sauce made with crushed, vine-ripened tomatoes, whole-milk mozzarella cheese, fire-roasted vegetables and applewood smoked bacon.

“The unique, flavored crust and super-premium ingredients,” Harter relates, “were key elements of the initial pizza concept and were a part of the product’s design from the very beginning. The Kraft Pizza Company goal was to create a pizza with the highest quality ingredients and sophisticated flavor profiles.”

However, Kraft’s developers wanted to deliver a dual eating experience. They wanted the consumer to enjoy the pizza and the experience of focaccia bread. Therefore, they opted to allow for a wider rim: sauces and toppings extend no further than one inch from the edge.

This crust, obviously, was crucial to the project, as evidenced by the fact that the team would not compromise time on its development. They worked to get the crust right first, before moving on to flavors and toppings, even though this required compressing some time at the back-end of the development to meet the aggressive timeline. “Consumer Insights conducted consumer research with prototypes early in the process,” Pham recalls, “to help guide product development. Key decision makers were identified early, and key meetings were limited to decision-makers, to fast-track approvals. Plus, the team supplemented consumer learning with collective judgment and experience to make quick decisions.”

Pham notes the efficiency, effectiveness and innovation of the Focaccia Crust Pizza team were unprecedented at Kraft. “Product formulation, packaging design and processing specifications were finalized and approved in three months from the day of receiving the concept, and the finished product was on shelves less than a year after initial conception.  This speed to market was achieved through a systematic development approach, identified early in the project, that focused on flawless execution, proactive contingency planning and adaptability.”

“The development of DiGiorno Ultimate Focaccia was a cross-functional team effort,” explains Mankowski, “that included Kraft employees in product and packaging R&D, finance, marketing, quality, manufacturing, operations and consumer insights. Total development time was less than seven months from idea to store shelf (even though, he notes, average development timeline for a new pizza product introduction can be approximately 12 months or more)--with multiple formulation iterations to ensure optimal product performance for consumers at home.”

The team also worked together to provide distinct advantages out of the entirely new line. Their work created a focaccia crust pizza that could be produced within the company’s current internal pizza manufacturing capabilities, thanks to an innovative formulation that served to simulate artisan-style bread production.

2nd place--Retail: Decadence LLC for Cheesecakes in a Jar

Consumers seem to be looking for controlled portions, and while dessert might not be the first part of the meal where they would want less, many realize that is the area where they need less. Unfortunately, even once that desire is in place, self-control can be a challenge--particularly when it comes to cheesecake. Consumers tend to buy a full-size cheesecake and then seriously overestimate the proper size of a slice, or they even tend to consume more than one. However, one company used its expertise and a unique team to confront the challenge of a portion-controlled cheesecake.

In creating the line, Lee Mathis, managing member of Decadence LLC, and his teams had specific goals: “small portions that feel significant, a reliably fresh serving solution, a wide array of flavor options without a lot of entire cheesecakes to store, and eco-friendly, recyclable glass jars.”

The small sizes have several advantages: the obvious portion control, but also the ability to have a different flavor of cheesecake every evening, rather than being stuck with a dozen slices of one flavor. As Mathis explains, “The creation of Cheesecakes in a Jar took about six months from original idea to production. The team (Mathis and employees and interns from the Colorado Culinary Academy) developed a baking process different than the company has used for its full-size cheesecakes: including the use of water baths and steaming.” All along, however, the group had one main goal: to match the taste, texture and quality of the company’s full-size cheesecakes.  

Singing a Different Attune
3rd Place--Retail: Attune Foods for Attune Probiotic Wellness Bars
Recent years have seen consumer awareness of the benefits of probiotics skyrocket. Largely gone are the days when discussions of gut health would kill a conversation, if not clear the room, and “friendly bacteria” was regarded as a contradiction in terms. Now, more consumers are actively seeking probiotics in their foods, but the best, most easily found options have been yogurt and cereal. However, an increasingly grab-and-go culture can take issue with both of these: cereals are not exactly geared toward dining on-the-run or as an anytime snack. As for yogurt, it spoils easily when not refrigerated and does not transport well.

Attune Foods’ developers wanted to create a product that was easily consumed on-the-go and that delivered the health benefits of probiotics. A cross-functional team of marketing, operations, co-packers, food technologists and sales professionals set out to create the “first truly portable probiotic food product” with only one goal: it had to taste good, while delivering a real health benefit. The end result actually delivered “five times the beneficial cultures found in yogurt and is the only bar found in the refrigerated yogurt aisle of the grocery store,” explains the company. In the process, developers implemented a patented process allowing the strains of probiotic cultures to remain efficacious for up to two weeks at ambient temperatures.

Slow and Low
Spirit of Innovation Award--Foodservice Winner:
Tyson Foods Inc. for Fully Cooked Pot Roasts

The story behind the development of Tyson’s line of fully cooked pot roasts is a somewhat surprising one: Tyson turned to its R&D staff, as well as marketing department and culinary chefs, with the goal of developing new items from the chuck roll, a cut of beef that sometimes is difficult for operators to utilize. Culinary was determined to create an authentic ethnic eating experience for an otherwise traditional item, recalls Chris Alsip, director of Tyson Foods Inc.’s Discovery Center Customer Experience. However, that would be just the start.

Determining the appropriate channel in which to introduce the product was also a concern. The challenge, as the company saw it, was how to communicate the authenticity of a Cuban pot roast to a consumer who may not be as familiar with the taste profile. With this in mind, the company also decided to offer a traditional Yankee Pot Roast, an item “enhanced to appeal to a wider audience and to the restaurant operator’s need for flexibility with a traditional comfort food,” Alsip notes.

The Yankee Pot Roast includes USDA Choice slow-cooked beef with vegetables, while theRopa Viejaversion features USDA Choice beef and “on-trend Cuban flavors in traditionalropa vieja-style.” Both versions are fully cooked for product consistency and for speed to plate within the operator environment. Tyson also notes that the items offer versatility for operators to use as an entrée or as an ingredient in ethnic-inspired dishes or, as the company likes to call it, “tradition with a twist.”

The development actually began some time ago, recalls Joe Bott, project leader, R&D Innovative with Tyson. “Mario (Valdovinos, director of culinary services with Tyson) had come up with a number of different items, and he presented us with a product calledropa vieja. That is where it was first put on the table, where we first saw the product in a form that we enjoyed. That was back in 2004.”

Valdovinos explains what prompted his experiment. “Tyson has great relationships with Johnson & Wales, the Culinary Institute of America and the Cordon Bleu, who host a yearly World of Flavors, and that year, there was an emphasis on Spain, Mexico andNuevoLatino. The industry had its first really top-level view of these kinds of foods. Back then, consumers were looking for adventurous flavor systems, and a regionalization effort was taking place. People were getting away from big brushstrokes of ethnic cuisine and craving things like Oaxacan or Baja or Yucatan style. As a part of that emphasis on food, the gate widened, and it was no longer ‘Mexican;’ it was ‘Latino.’ Tyson is in the protein business, the meat business, and the question was: how do we make comfort foods come to life for consumers in Italy or in China or Mexico or Cuba?Ropa viejais like pot roast in America.”

The first round of prototyping would take nine months, Bott remembers, and the first “cutting” with Tyson’s foodservice people was in June of 2006. At that time, the first form was sent out for scale-up work. “TheRopa Viejatook about 18 months to scale to that gold standard. We went in a few different directions, and it was not the only product we were working on at the time. Altogether, it was about 18 months, but it was not continuous. If you condensed it, I’d say it was maybe nine months.” As John Yingling, food technologist, Foodservice Distribution R&D, notes, it was scaled up simultaneously with its counterpart Yankee Pot Roast. “The final product truly still is a match of the original gold standard. The only real modifications were small tweaks, to allow for the commercialization of the recipe.”

The process would require the gamut of Tyson’s expertise and departments, and suppliers played well more than a passing role in creating the line.

“We had suppliers in (Tyson’s) plants,” Bott remembers, “and gave them the gold standard to meet. John and I spent a lot of time on the road to get to that with them. It was a lot of interaction and passion from all aspects of the development component. We had to keep our specifications in line...[there were] very narrow, very specific ways they had to make it.”

The Blend is Nigh

One of those key challenges stemmed from the complicated ingredients, Allen explains, though this was without question a key to the product’s success. “It really is authentic, when you look at the ingredient deck. We could have obtained that same flavor without having all the different vegetables and different ingredients we have. To be honest, that would have been a much easier way to obtain it, but we actually went and developed it around the ingredients and scaled it up. That’s one thing that makes it authentic: the ingredients are actually in there, the olives or whatever it may be. There would have been other ways to achieve that.

“The initial reply was, ‘No, we’re not going bring this in,’ but instead of having to add every individual ingredient that we worked on, it’s more of a blend from working with our suppliers. We tried to minimize the impact at our production location by specifying how many of the olives, peppers, whatever, [could be] combined in a blend that comes in, so that we didn’t have to do all of those things individually.”

As Tyson has learned and exemplified with its new line of fully cooked pot roasts, innovation requires not only teamwork, but talented and educated teams that work well together.

“[Creating a successful product] doesn’t take just a chef or a technologist or a great marketing team or a great production team,” Valdovinos believes. “We are actively training and supporting the culinology effort within Tyson. All of our technologists go through a three-cycle program taught by chefs so the dialogue and language barriers are brought down. We have a commitment to our science team and to our culinary team. Tyson scientists go through culinary courses and real-life cooking, so that once it’s time to create these products, the translation time, the market time, the development time is all really sped up. To create really ‘wow’ factor foods, we are investing in knowledge information and training to get our technology team and creative team to be both technical and food savvy.”

In the Bag 
2nd place: Carla’s Pasta Inc. for Steam ‘N Serve Entrées

Foodservice suppliers have attempted to assist with many back-of-house issues by creating easily prepared, yet authentic and tasty menu items or parts. The trick has always been to formulate the product to the point that the line cook has as little as possible to do with the product.

Such was the task at hand for Carla’s Pasta developers, as they began work on Steam ‘N Serve Entrées. They aimed to offer foodservice operators gourmet pasta and sauce in a microwaveable steam bag, all as part of creating a simple way to expand the menu to include high-quality pasta and sauce entrées, items that can be augmented by protein or a garnish, if the chef desires.

The team--Sergio Squatrito (vice president of operations), Sandro Squatrito (vice president of business development) and Brad Blodgett, executive chef--are foodies all, Sandro assures, relating that the development team operated in a highly entrepreneurial fashion. The end result is a pasta and sauce in a steam bag that can be microwaved and ready in less than four minutes, resulting in a gourmet-like entrée in such varieties as Six-cheese (ricotta, mozzarella, Romano, Parmesan, Monterey Jack and Cheddar) Sacchettini with Basil Pesto, Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce, and Cheese Tortellini with Alfredo Sauce. However, the meal requires no labor to cook the pasta or to heat the sauce, and no clean-up, either.

Singing the Blues
3rd place: Hormel Foods for Austin Blues Pulled Chicken

Frequently, developers relate stories of great ideas stemming from other great ideas. Developers at Hormel Foods note such an occurrence following the release of its Austin Blues Chicken Quarters, which launched three years ago.

While giving out samples of the product at trade shows, Hormel sales representatives often pulled the meat to get the proper sample size for attendees. Consumers liked the product and asked if a pulled chicken option was available, and an idea was born.

With these customers already in place, Hormel development teams went to work on a smoked, pulled chicken product that could be both versatile and healthy. The result is a pulled chicken suitable for serving in salads, sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, burritos, nachos, tacos and other items.

That is not to say that the development would be simple. In fact, a cross-discipline team had to test a variety of smoking methods, temperatures, cycles and seasonings to achieve the right flavor and texture. The result uses full-muscle chicken (never sectioned or formed, the company assures) naturally smoked using hardwood, with no liquid smoke added. Furthermore, for consumers interested in healthy eating, Hormel assures that the product is a low-fat, high-protein food choice and also well-suited for situations where the back-of-house staff may have limited food-handling experience.The Austin Blues product only has to be heated, significantly reducing food safety issues.