Nominations for the 2010 Spirit of Innovation Awards were all excellent examples of the teamwork crucial to innovation, the very concept the awards were created to reward. This year saw major and minor companies alike align to create innovative new products and push the boundaries of innovation.

Hail the King
First Place--Foodservice: Tyson Foods for Seasoned Pork Spareribs2010 Spirit of Innovation Awards
A troubled economy has forced nearly everyone to cut back to one degree or another, and in the foodservice industry, the notion of ìtrading downî has become more pronounced. Consumers who once would have gone to fine dining restaurants are opting instead for fast casual, while fast casual restaurant patrons choose quick-service options. That said, consumers who are trading down do not necessarily want to experience a trade-down in the quality of foods they want to order. As such, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) are seeing a fairly robust change in their menus and looking to provide new and old QSR consumers alike with new, more upscale options.

Such was the case, when Burger King developed and shared a strategy to bring casual dining-quality foods to the QSR marketplace with Tyson. Burger King had adopted new broiler technology that it hoped would provide a degree of flexibility, to expand its menu with new products delivering enhanced flame-broiled taste. In March of 2008, with the new operations platform and strategy in mind, Rob Thomas, product development manager with Burger King, met with Tyson personnel at Tyson headquarters for a work session devoted to red meats designed for the new broiler. Tyson's team had developed a variety of options for Burger King, one being a retail rib product from its Any-tizers line.  Over the next year or so, the Burger King and Tyson teams would work closely to develop a product that delivered an authentic rib experience. From the initial idea concept in March 2008, it would be over a year before developers would be ready for a market test using the Tyson product (in June 2009), with full production in November 2009 in preparation for May 2010ís national market launch.

While a number of flavor profiles were considered, ultimately, the teams opted to re-engineer the production process to deliver a product with an authentic, smoked rib flavor by utilizing a natural, hardwood smoking step in the cooking process. The effort was a true display of teamwork, as individuals from both companies worked together to create a product that exceeded expectations:
* Burger King's senior vice president of Global Product Marketing and Innovation, John Schaufelberger, managed product development and marketing efforts. 
* Burger King's product development team of Rob Thomas and Kevin Anderson led Burger Kingís product development efforts and managed the product execution within the Burger King system, while product marketing (led by Leo Leon) developed and tested communication for the test market and national launch of the product.
* Tyson's R&D (Marcia Dalton, in particular) developed the product protocept and production process to achieve an authentic rib product at target cost.
* At Tyson Fresh Meat, Jay Krehbiel coordinated supply and quality assurance efforts for all raw material sourcing through three Tyson plants.
* Tyson's Commercialization & Production team (Ed Moix, Tom Smith, Joel Colville, Tim Scheiderer) and Customer Development (David Jetter, Melissa Gelner, Rodger Starnes) also contributed invaluably to the process, in bringing the innovative concept to the marketplace.

After a number of iterations, with variances in raw material optimization, cook cycle modifications, flavor changes and other adjustments, the product launched in May as a five-week, limited-time offer. Consumers embraced the product to such a degree that Burger King had to cut the offering to four weeks, due to a supply shortfall. The teams had created a product that met the challenges of Burger Kingís new equipment and incorporated each partnerís own unique contributions, ultimately selling over 27 million ribs.

One Chef to Another
Second Place--Foodservice: Meyer Natural Angus for Chef-to-Chef
Meyer Natural Angus sought to expand its established product offerings with a sous vide line extension, a line of prepared entrÈes to provide new menu options which several clients had been unable to offer. The six-item line, launched in October 2009, proved so successful, the company has added five new items in the time since, with more in development.

Chef-to-Chef uses Meyer Natural Angus product, as well as other "clean" ingredients--the labels' ingredient listings do not include any preservatives or man-made substances to prolong shelflife. Each entrÈe is individually packaged in a vacuum-sealed bag. The products are shipped frozen and can go from freezer to plate in about 12 minutes.

Besides convenience, the Chef-to-Chef line provides professional kitchens a great level of versatility. If a banquet chef expects 50 people for a meeting, but only 40 attend, the chef can refreeze the heated entrÈes and save them for a later date, saving time and wasted food costs.

Winging It
Third Place--Foodservice: Brakebush Brothers for Beer-battered Boneless Wings
With chicken wings a tried-and-true favorite appetizer, and indeed an entrÈe for some, finding a new take on the concept can prove a challenge. Brakebush Brothers Inc. took that challenge head on--or maybe Point on.

The company's Tappers Beer-battered Wings feature Point Classic Amber beer in the batter, with hints of malted barley and hops, providing the crisp coating with a distinctive amber color. The result is what Brakebush Brothers describes as "the only beer-battered wings on the market sold to restaurants, pubs and taverns nationwide."

The combination joins two Wisconsin firms with long histories; Stevens Point Brewery has been brewing since 1857, while Brakebush Brothers was founded in 1925. A cross-functional team included R&D, operations, purchasing, marketing and sales to create the product that captures the Point flavor efficiently.

Just Cracking
First Place--Retail: Kraft Foods for Crackerfuls
Recognizing that snacking is part and parcel of the lives of American consumers, Kraft Foods' developers realized those consumers are also looking for a bit more from their snacking occasions. Scott Christensen, senior brand manager of New Products Marketing, notes, "Although it may sound pretty basic, we know many people snack to satisfy hunger between meals. We also know consumers can choose from a range of items and categories to fill that need. With Crackerfuls, we saw an opportunity to offer consumers something with an already trusted name Ritz--but with unique attributes. It's satisfying and wholesome--made with whole grains and fiber, which is an important trend. We also know consumers are looking for new and different snacks, and our being able to deliver a product different from what's already on-shelf made Crackerfuls an attractive opportunity for us."

The development of Ritz Crackerfuls took just over 12 months from concept to commercial launch, and it would require a broad scope of the Kraft Foods network. The original idea was to develop a satisfying "meal bridge" snack, one that could satisfy a consumer between meals. Even with that goal in mind, however, the product did evolve over time, with consumer testing and internal criteria guiding the way. As Christensen recalls, Consumer Insights and Marketing were instrumental in the concept, product shape and business proposition of the product, while Research selected ingredients for functionality, taste and texture. Product, process and packaging developers created the recipe, specifications and packaging, while a host of other teams complemented the entire development of the product, notably Kraft's Nutrition group, which was tasked with validating the product's claims and nutrition information.

Indeed, Crackerfuls' nutritional content has proven one of its strongest selling points. The product merges flaky Ritz crackers and a real cheese filler into a sandwich with 6g whole grains and 3g fiber, not to mention 0g trans fat. Providing the benefits of whole grain and fiber, while still maintaining the Ritz equity of a buttery, flaky cracker, would be a unique challenge for the developers. As Marlene Quijano, senior director of R&D, Snacks Growth, recalls, "Because we decided to launch Crackerfuls under the Ritz brand, it was critical to meet the expectations people have of a brand as iconic and beloved as Ritz, including the traditional buttery flavor and golden, flaky texture, and we decided early in the process that we wanted to provide fiber and whole grains. So we feel great about how we've created a product with taste and texture that people associate with Ritz, in a new form that offers the benefits of whole grains and fiber. With regard to shelflife, we were able to achieve our six-month shelflife goal, as well."

The teams faced numerous challenges to development along the way, and in the spirit of innovation, these groups overcame those challenges by working well together and applying time-tested project management skills, notes Karen Freyre, associate principal engineer with Kraft's Snacks. "Our key challenge was delivering a product with key benefits--hunger satisfaction, whole grains, fiber--while offering a delicious and convenient snack with the taste and texture people would expect from a brand like Ritz. We were able to overcome these challenges, because our team worked well together and applied strong project management skills. Importantly, throughout the project, we lived the Kraft Foods' values of trust, being open and inclusive, acting like owners, and discussing, deciding and delivering."

Mixed Up
Second Place--Retail: Mars Chocolate North America for Pretzel M&Ms
Realizing consumers enjoy mixing a chocolate treat into their trail mix, popcorn and other snacks, Mars Chocolate North America capitalized on this desire to blend sweet and savory by adding pretzels to the iconic M&M.

To assure every bite-size piece has both sweet and salty, the Pretzel M&Ms feature a crunchy, salted pretzel center covered in milk chocolate and a candy shell. At the same time, the company introduced a packaging innovation: larger, shareable bags made of a metallic film to protect the integrity of the product by blocking moisture.

Development involved R&D, sales, marketing, packaging design and supply in overcoming some unique challenges. Perhaps the toughest was determining the ideal composition of the pretzel, to ensure it retained its mouthfeel during manufacturing, would not become stale or crack, would react well to chocolate enrobing and had the ideal salt level, all of which required an assortment of Mars Chocolateís proprietary technologies.

Make It a Double
Third Place--Retail: Sadler's Smokehouse for Dinners for Two
Census statistics show one- and two-person households account for 60% of the U.S. population, the fastest-growing segment of the country's population. Sadler's Smokehouse developed its Dinner for Two line to capitalize on these smaller households.

A new meal concept in the fully cooked refrigerated dinner/entrÈe category, Dinner for Two allows a pair of consumers to enjoy a perfectly portioned meat and side dish, or one consumer may eat a portion and have a one-meal leftover. Featuring Sadler's smoked meats and a homestyle side dish, the microwave tray also has advantages of its own: it is economical, uses fewer raw materials than some other ready meals and, thanks to a proprietary self-venting technology, heats the product evenly.

As a company that has produced pit-smoked meats and barbecue for over 50 years, Sadler's development of the Dinners for Two line demanded new processes, ingredients and packaging, in addition to a new production line and extending the shelf-life of the products. The entire company banded together to exceed these expectations.

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.

Wilbert Jones is the president of Healthy Concepts, a food and beverage company that provides menu, recipe and product development consulting services. Be sure to check local PBS listings in 2011 for Jones' A Taste of Africa: Cultural and Cuisine from Casablanca to Cape Town. For more information, call 312-335-0031 or e-mail:

John J. Smith, formerly technical manager with Quaker, Tropicana, Gatorade--A Division of PepsiCo, holds M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in food science from Purdue University and was responsible for developing new technology in U.S. Foods, a group encompassing Quaker hit and ready-to-eat cereals. For more information, e-mail: