Shaking It Up
First Place--Retail: MolliCoolz Milkshake Mixers
Milkshakes are a part of America. Consumers have embraced the frozen, dessert-like beverage for years, and in foodservice alone, more than 2 billion servings are consumed each year. Preparation at home, however, has lagged, principally because of the inherent difficulties: multiple components must be acquired, a time-consuming and bulky blender must be used, and clean-up can be more trouble than even a delicious milkshake is worth. For that matter, children between the ages of 7-17 comprise the nation’s largest demographic of milkshake consumption, and relatively few households are prepared to allow them to blend their own milkshake. Therefore, milkshakes, as popular as they are, remain something of a special occasion snack.

A number of products do tout themselves as “shakes,” to the tune of a $1 billion annual market; however, the taste and mouthfeel experience simply fall short of an authentic “shake.” MolliCoolz LLC saw opportunity in this divide between shakes on the market and those “special occasion” treats consumers desire. In turn, the company delivered a solution to the clean-up issues and, more importantly, that true “shake-like” texture experience.

The patent-pending MolliCoolz Shaker technology simply requires the consumer to add milk and shake for 30 seconds. It required formulators at MolliCoolz to develop an ice cream product that remains stable from manufacturing to consumption, one which also blended into a thick and creamy frozen milkshake when shaken with milk. Developers were also tasked with finding a container that met multiple demands. It had to facilitate easy preparation, aid in blending of the product and allow the consumer to enjoy the product directly from the container.

At the same time, the single-serving Shaker product allows consumers to customize their shakes, thick or creamy, strawberry or chocolate. Each Shaker has a “Milk Fill Zone” window on the side, which directs consumers on the proper amount of milk to add to create their preferred milkshake. Shakers are sold as individual milkshakes, allowing each individual to pick his favorite flavor, without any extra mess or hassle.

The Shakers also allow consumers to add other ingredients besides milk. Adding orange juice to a Vanilla Shaker results in a Creamsicle, while coffee can be added to create a frozen frappuccino.

Product development took five years, encompassing functional resources from marketing, R&D applications, R&D analytics, consumer research, finance, intellectual property and operations, explains Tim Webert, vice president with MolliCoolz. The idea for a convenient, at-home milkshake seemed simple enough, but it was a true trial-and-error approach, he recalls, one for which the incorporation of a pelletized ice cream would prove essential. As he notes, “The technical challenge of developing an ice cream bead that was hard enough to remain free-flowing, yet soft enough to blend into a thick and creamy milkshake, was overcome with a combination of formula and manufacturing methods.”

Mrs. Fields of Dreams
Second Place--Retail: Rich Products for Mrs. Fields Cookie Dough Snacks
Consumers are fairly well aware of the dangers of eating raw cookie dough. Most packages of raw cookie dough warn of the consequences, yet numerous consumers simply cannot resist. Now, Rich Products has devised a safe alternative.

The snack is made without any eggs and with a special enzyme-deactivated, heat-treated flour, making it safe for raw consumption. The dough is formed into bite-sized pieces and drizzled with chocolate on top and is available in two varieties: Chocolate Chip and Brownie Chocolate Chip.

“The snack is all-natural and kosher and has 0g trans fat per serving,” explains Donna Reeves-Collins, managing director of confections with Rich Products. The products required two years of R&D efforts, with input from across the company, from QA to New Ventures, to Packaging Engineers to Licensing.

Wholly Different Outlook
Third Place--Retail: Fresherized Foods for Wholly Guacamole
Guacamole has emerged as an option for consumers looking for ethnic alternatives to dipping sauces and toppings. Unfortunately, guacamole on-the-go can be difficult.

Fresherized Foods met that challenge with 100 Calorie Wholly Guacamole Snack Packs, a 2oz, 100-calorie, portion-control pack “better for individual consumption as a healthy snack with high nutritious content.”

Making it possible is Fresherized Foods’ High Pressure Processing (HPP), allowing the creation of preservative-free, from-scratch-tasting guacamole. “HPP extends the shelflife of the product,” notes Sylvia Barnard, public relations manager with Fresherized Foods. “It is also this water pressurization that eliminates foodborne bacteria and helps our avocados retain all nutrients.”

Further differentiating the product is the packaging. “Extensive testing found that some of the delivery systems under consideration had a negative impact on the quality of the product,” Barnard recalls. Numerous shelflife tests, the efforts of many departments, including R&D, in-house and third-party microbiological laboratory, packaging, engineering, materials and procurement, quality assurance and marketing, were all involved before the final product was launched.

With an Upside
First Place--Foodservice: Simplot Food Group for UpSides® Multigrain Blends
Whole grains have become a sizable trend in the retail side of the food industry, as consumers look for healthier and more nutritious foods in their everyday meals. Concurrently, those same consumers are seeking more adventurous culinary experiences, both at home and in restaurants. Simplot Food Group managed to meet both expectations and deliver an interesting and on-trend product, one wholeheartedly deserving of first place in the 2009 Spirit of Innovation Awards-Foodservice.

Simplot’s UpSides Multigrain Blends deliver on-trend whole grains with unique flavors, while offering foodservice operators the opportunity to menu more sophisticated and indulgent side items that, until UpSides, may have been regarded as too challenging to prepare.

“The original idea for the UpSides brand came out of an ideation topic around profitable gourmet products that are easy for foodservice operators to prepare,” recalls Danny Bawcom, director of marketing, new products, with Simplot. “Operator motivators were around convenience for the foodservice operator, providing a consistent, high-quality product, without added labor. Consumer motivators were around indulgence, since consumers continue to raise the expectations bar for operators. The Multigrain Blends line was just one product line that resulted from this ideation. We also looked at trends and what was being served in many fine dining restaurants in major U.S. cities. Whole-grain blends were very predominant on fine dining menus. The idea was to deliver whole-grain blends in a format that was easy for other foodservice segments to serve.” 

Each of the three multigrain-blend products incorporates at least three different types of whole grains, such as wheatberries, red rice, amaranth and quinoa, in addition to vegetable and herb ingredients.

The result is varieties such as Hearty Grains & Wild Mushrooms, Exotic Grains & Fire-roasted Vegetables, and Pearl Couscous & Red Grains. With such a diverse set of products and ingredients, the toughest aspect of development may simply have been setting limits. “The biggest challenge,” Bawcom explains, “was commercializing the gold standard prototypes. Some of the blends contain up to 14 ingredients, some of which are very small percentages in the overall formulation. Since consistency is extremely important, it is necessary to make sure we are getting the correct amount of ingredients in each bag of product. In order to do this, we had to change our processes, which required operations, quality assurance, R&D and supply chain to work closely together to make sure that occurred smoothly.”

In addition to the healthy ingredients, the three varieties promise to be low in fat, while also bearing the Whole Grains Council Stamp of Approval. While the healthy aspect did factor into the line’s creation, it was not the prime focus during development, recalls Bawcom. However, utilizing whole grains helped meet this trend, regardless. “The great thing about whole grains is that they are naturally healthy. The bad thing is whole grains by themselves can be a little boring. When you add other ingredients to them, with the proper seasoning, they can be a very flavorful, indulgent side dish or ingredient used in soups, wraps and salads. When most consumers eat out, they are not willing to sacrifice all their food expectations just for health. So, our primary focus was on designing the products to deliver on the indulgence factor, knowing that they were already going to deliver healthier benefits.”

Each variety is fully cooked and individually quick- frozen in 2.5lb bags and, according to Bawcom, are the first value-added, fully cooked and frozen multigrain blend side dishes developed and nationally distributed for the foodservice market.

“The key to the success in developing and launching this line was the support and expertise of the team. The team,” he explains, “was truly cross-functional, involving departments such as marketing, research and development, operations, packaging, purchasing, engineering, quality assurance, supply chain and sales. The team operated based on consensus decision-making, while relying on subject matter experts to lead decision recommendations. The strength of the team allowed us to overcome our challenges and develop a truly extraordinary product line for the foodservice marketplace. ”

Tangled Up
Second Place--Foodservice: Tyson Foods for Chicken Tangles
Responding to customer demand for a high-quality, hand-held chicken offering that is easy to share as an appetizer, Tyson created Chicken Tangles. As Chris Alsip, director of Tyson’s Discovery Center Customer Experience, relates, “Chicken Strips and Boneless Wings are served by the piece and are more difficult to distribute among your table. Sliced chicken breast meat often becomes dry during cooking. Tyson R&D and operations teams worked diligently to re-engineer traditional breaded chicken processing steps to optimize the slicing, marinating and breading processes. This yielded a super-tender and juicy product from sliced chicken breast.”

The tender and juicy, whole-muscle breast strips are tumble marinated and lightly breaded, and they can be served on their own, with dipping sauce or tossed in a glaze.

Darkwing Duck
Third Place--Foodservice: Maple Leaf Farms for Duck Wing Appetizers

Wings are well-known foodservice fare. For several chains, their entire reputation rests on them; however, those have tended to utilize the chicken as a source of protein. For its launch, Maple Leaf Farms preferred poultry of a different sort.

By doing so, Maple Leaf Farms was taking duck out of its previous white-tablecloth environment and opening it up to other restaurant possibilities. While the Duck Wings are well suited for white-cloth dining, they can be “dressed down” for other target audiences. As Carmen Darland, food technologist with Maple Leaf Farms and product and formulation lead for the Duck Wing project, explains, “If the target demographic is a white-tablecloth customer, the restaurant can get more creative with upscale sauce additions. The wings can fit into many restaurant models.”

“The wings are fully cooked in a unique cooking process,” she notes, “that tenderizes the meat but retains the crunchy outside coating capabilities. The tender flavor of duck in a crunchy starch coating creates a nice contrast in texture.”  pf

Website Resources:
www.PreparedFoods.com/SOI -- Archive of past Spirit of Innovation Award winners and, soon to come, information on nominating products for the 2010 Spirit of Innovation Awards
www.idfa.org/facts/icecream.cfm -- Information on ice cream trends
www.safeeggs.com/food-safety-training/raw-cookie-dough-handout.pdf -- Dangers of eating raw cookie dough

Among This Year’s Judges

This year’s judging panel for the Spirit of Innovation Awards featured a pair of guest judges, each well-known for food industry expertise and for being on the cutting edge of food innovation.

At presstime, Wilbert Jones was traveling and filming a television series called A Taste of Africa: Culture and Cuisine from Casablanca to Cape Town. He is the president of Healthy Concepts, a food and beverage company that provides menu, recipe and product development consulting services. Jones can be contacted at 312-335-0031 or wjhealthyconcept@aol.com.

John J. Smith, Ph.D. is founder of Cantaleir International Inc., a company specializing in innovation and business development directed, in particular, to the health and wellness markets for food, beverage and ingredient companies. He was formerly with a Fortune100 food and beverage company, where his work focused on innovation and wellness products. Smith can be contacted at 847-651-1474 or jsmith@cantaleir.com.