Just Tickled
First Place—Retail: Ticklebelly Desserts for Brownie Pops and Blondie Pops

October 2011/Prepared Foods -- “Innovation is an everyday occurrence at Ticklebelly Desserts, and we pride ourselves on taking a leadership role in offering the most original desserts in the retail dessert industry,” explains Brian McGuire, president of Ticklebelly Desserts. Indeed, for its development of Brownie Pops and Blondie Pops, the company sought to innovate around the brownie, already a borderline-perfect product in the eyes of many consumers. For the Pops, however, the challenge would be delivering the satisfaction of a full-sized brownie in a two-bite delight on a stick.

A new take on an existing product is a frequent route to innovation, and for its launch of Brownie Pops and Blondie Pops, Ticklebelly Desserts’ developers realized that while the recipe for brownies has changed from time to time throughout the years, the standard shape remained the same: a “simple square of deliciousness,” as Ticklebelly describes it. Cooking pans have been altered to provide all-edges brownies, but the actual shape never changed.

Ticklebelly’s round-ball Brownie Pops and Blondie Pops are a concept of a different mold. As such, the company’s two-bite Pops hope to lead the trend beyond individual desserts and into petite bites, while retaining the taste and satisfaction of traditionally sized brownies. Add to that the convenience of being on a stick and no refrigeration needed—as they have a five-day shelflife and can be frozen for up to six months. 

“Ticklebelly Desserts always puts innovation before production,” notes McGuire. “When our initial prototype didn’t stay on the stick as well as we would have liked, we approached the problem from a manufacturing standpoint, rather than a reformulation standpoint. We figured out how to manufacture differently to ensure our customers tasted the highest quality product possible. We added extra, labor-intensive processes to the production line, to allow us to maintain the original integrity of our Brownie Pop idea. Our vice president of operations, Cole Lewis, and our Longmont plant manager, Alfredo Ferradas, were integral in executing the pilot production runs and determining the correct way to manufacture the product, so the Brownie Pops retained the Innovation and Development Team’s intended high quality and envisioned appearance. We not only created Brownie Pops, but also created jobs to produce the Brownie Pops.”

He notes the company tends to develop an idea and then develop a manufacturing process around that notion. “The idea always takes precedence over utilizing existing production methods. Ticklebelly Desserts focuses on innovation, and we don’t compromise the product to make production easier. With Brownie Pops, we actually created additional jobs and added additional labor to the production, to ensure our Brownie Pops meet our quality standards and have a hand-crafted feel.”

The company prides itself on quick turnaround from concept to product, and the Brownie Pops were no exception: they went from idea to viable products in about six months, McGuire recalls, which is a typical amount of time for product development at Ticklebelly. The Brownie Pops launched June 6, 2011, at the IDDBA trade show in Anaheim. At this point, four varieties are available: Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Chocolate Walnut and Sea Salt Caramel Blondie, though plans are to add new and seasonal flavors in the future, possibly as early as spring of 2012.

Simple Inspiration

Second Place--Retail: Schwan Food Company
for Freschetta Simply Inspired Pizza

Schwan Food Company’s Mike Gerber notes the aim of developers in creating this line was to be the first brand to “offer permissible indulgence in the frozen pizza category by developing an innovative, new thin crust pizza targeting sophisticated transitional and health-conscious Boomers--a new consumer target for Freschetta.”

The goal, simply, was guilt-free indulgence, an ultra-premium, thin-crust pizza that delivered on the Freschetta brand promise of fresh. Developers accomplished this through the use of highly flavored sauces, large chunks of vegetables and toppings rarely seen in the frozen pizza aisle. Even the packaging required a rethink: to help the product stand out, Schwan opted for a thermoformed tray without an outer carton, providing easy recognition and conveying the freshness of the product. 

Indulgent and Sensible

Third Place--Retail: CSM Bakery Products
for Sensibly Indulgent Cupcakes

For consumers looking to cut calories, yet still enjoy a sweet treat, the options can be somewhat limited. CSM Bakery Products sought to expand the available options with Sensibly Indulgent Cupcakes.

Developing the line required input from numerous CSM departments, explains CSM’s Juan Menjivar, with R&D, innovation, packaging, manufacturing and marketing all involved in the creation of the line.

Of particular focus was achieving the sensory qualities of buttercreme, without the use of hydrogenated shortenings or tropical oils. In addition, Menjivar explains, “Cutting-edge technology was used to create a frosting with the mouthfeel and flavor of typical (25-30%) fat frosting with only 3% fat.”

In the end, the full-sized, indulgent cupcakes boast only 120 calories each (half the calories of a typical cupcake). In addition, they limit “unhealthy fats,” such as trans and saturated fats.


A Healthy Treat

First Place--Foodservice: Mrs. Fields Famous Brands TCBY for Super Fro Yo

Developing a true treat with a healthy benefit seems like the Holy Grail for food developers and, for that matter, marketers. TCBY did just that with the introduction of its Super Fro Yo category of frozen yogurt. Each flavor bearing the Super Fro Yo banner must have a minimum of 3g of prebiotic fiber, 4g of protein, 20% of the daily value of calcium, 20% of the daily value of vitamin D, 10% of a day’s vitamin A, seven strains of probiotic bacteria, 20 billion cultures at the time of manufacture and less than 120 calories per serving, explains Craig Bennett, director of R&D for Mrs. Fields Famous Brands TCBY. Of course, all those healthy benefits would be for naught, if the product failed in the taste department. Bennett recalls, “While meeting these requirements, the body, texture and freeze-thaw characteristics were improved, and outstanding flavor was obtained.”

He regards the new line as almost a necessity for the company. “We were faced with a quickly expanding competitive marketplace, with consumers demanding healthier products. Even though TCBY products at that time met or exceeded these expectations, the consumer perception was that our brand was outdated and that our frozen yogurt was less healthy than competitive products.”

“During this time, our R&D team was working with several suppliers and exploring ingredients and processes that could be used to increase healthy aspects of TCBY products. This work led to the development of several proprietary technologies that could dramatically elevate the nutritional benefits of our products.  Armed with this information, we came up with an idea to link the technologies and to create what our R&D team called ‘The TCBY Health Enhancement System.’ This idea was based on ‘bundling’ several components, namely milk proteins, probiotic cultures, calcium, prebiotic fiber, and vitamins A and D to provide synergistic health benefits. For instance, fiber and cultures work better together than apart to improve digestive health, and bioavailable calcium plus vitamin D are needed together to promote bone health. We chose to formulate our products to address digestive health, weight management, bone health and longevity.”

Bennett and Dr. Wayne Geilman, the company’s manager of product development, led the development program and were supported by three other members of the TCBY team in developing the new products, which spanned almost two years. In addition, Bennett avers, “Our suppliers played a big role in developing the proprietary technologies. They allowed us to use their labs and pilot plants to produce test products and provided excellent technical support.”

Unlike several past Innovation Award winners, the concept was virtually set in stone early in the development. Bennett recounts, “Before it was ever presented, the concept included all the current benefits plus several other innovations. To improve our odds at getting approval for this idea, we decided to focus on those components that would also improve the richness, texture, flavor and overall acceptability of our products, such as milk proteins, prebiotic fiber, probiotic cultures and a special source of calcium that together increased the creaminess and mouthfeel.  Vitamins A&D remained, because they played a role in supporting the bundling concept.”

Flavor Factor

Second Place--Foodservice: King & Prince Seafood for Market Fresh Flavor Infused Fish Fillets

In developing Market Fresh Flavor Infused Fish Fillets, King & Prince capitalized on the flavor infusion trend, but coupled it with the need for back-of-kitchen convenience. A proprietary process ensures the flavor (be it Sweet Hawaiian Teriyaki Steelhead Trout, Fiery French Quarter Tilapia or any of the other four options) is consistent throughout the entire piece of fish, not only in the top coating or glaze, notes Scott Sullins of King & Prince.

As Sullins explains, “[The target segment] is primarily colleges and universities, catering and healthcare (non-patient feeding), where the key drivers are less food waste and ultimately lower food-cost products that save labor and are consistent every time. These operators have limited preparation methods, having either removed their fryers or never having had them.”

King & Prince’s culinary staff and R&D tested numerous flavor combinations for these settings, all with a goal of flavors that were on-trend and that would drive repeat business.


Small Success

Third Place--Foodservice: Awrey Bakeries LLC for Mini Desserts

Small portions have emerged as a significant trend in recent years, as consumers seem to be realizing large portions could be partly to blame for the nation’s obesity crisis. Shrinking a dessert into a smaller, yet still tempting option yielded a number of benefits, explains Awrey Bakeries LLC’s Leslye Davison. The varieties (including Caramel Toffee Brownie, New York Cheese Cake, Red Velvet, S’More, Strawberries & Crème and Carrot Cake) come in a three-bite portion and in a small case, for ease of storage.

Davison continues, “The mini desserts were created by a cross-functional team of culinary, R&D, marketing, operations, purchasing and finance. It was entirely a collaborative effort utilizing each department’s skills, as we looked for a missing spot between the cupcake and full-sized dessert and found a sweet spot (no pun intended) that could be served in multiple foodservice operations.” pf

Among This Year’s Judges

Wilbert JonesWilbert Jones is the president of Healthy Concepts, a food and beverage company that provides menu, recipe and product development consultingservices. 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 email: wjhealthyconcept@aol.com.This year’s judging panel for the Excellence in Innovation Awards featured a trio of guest judges, each well-known for food industry expertise and for being on the cutting edge of food innovation.

John J. SmithJohn 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, email: jsmith@cantaleir.com.

Richard MitchellRich Mitchell is editor-in-chief of Refrigerated & Frozen Foods Retailer, a sibling publication of Prepared Foods that covers products and trends in the consumer packaged foods sector; he may be reached at mitchellr@bnpmedia.com or 847-405-4089.