Wow. Mattel Inc. certainly threw the marketing world for a loop. To mark the end of X Games Los Angeles 2012, the toymaker set up a life-size, orange Hot Wheels race track, complete with a set of 60-foot-tall double vertical loops. The closing event featured two stuntmen racing real cars—speeding upside down through the loops and then over ramp jumps to the finish line.

Speaking of Mattel, I recently landed the interview of a lifetime for Prepared Foods’ online “Food for Thought” feature series (see I spoke with Mattel Chairman Bob Eckert, who happens to be a former Kraft Foods executive. Eckert concluded a 23-year food career in 2000, when he joined Mattel and stepped down as Kraft’s president and CEO.

I’d been dying to ask him about how product development varies from hot meals to Hot Wheels. How would he answer? Would he throw us all for a loop?

“The biggest difference I found is in speed of decision-making,” Eckert says. “The toy folks need to move quite fast, or they’ll miss Christmas. As a consequence, everyone appreciates the ticking clock and proceeds to get the job done; makes the calls that need to be made; and charges ahead. Food companies have the benefit of time, but I suspect, at times, this actually hurts the process. [My advice is] Be decisive.”

How does Mattel prepare for those critical, fast-paced decisions?

“The toy business moves so fast, and it’s part art, part science,” Eckert continues. “The science includes consumer insights; understanding play patterns (for example, nurturing or conflict-resolution or aspiring to be a teenager); usage occasions (birthday, holiday, gifting); and price points.” (More interview on PF’s web site.)

What’s my take-away? I think food and beverage processors have improved overall their new product speed-to-market. They’ve achieved this with greater internal cross-functional communication and cooperation, as well as with greater supplier contributions and more flexible approaches—such as open innovation and contract manufacturing.

Still, Eckert’s comments point—even deeper—to a literal need for faster decision-making. That, in turn, suggests the need for more quantitative, qualitative consumer insights work. If you want to “be decisive” and among the first to market, you must trust your insights research. Likewise, this applies to the foodservice market, where processor-suppliers also need to do their operator insights homework.

I realize consumer insights may be a costly, “softer” part of the R&D equation. Perhaps suppliers—already investing in new R&D and culinary centers—will choose to spend more here, too. Whatever the case, it could be money well spent—so nobody gets thrown for a loop with a new product failure.


Blount Fine Foods: Thriving in a Made-to-Order Market

Speakers: William Bigelow, V.P., Business Development/R&D, and Jeff Wirtz, Corporate Executive Chef, Blount Fine Foods

A leading soup supplier to the nation’s largest private label retail and foodservice accounts, Blount Fine Foods leverages its sales, customer service and a lean, flexible organization. How do the company’s R&D and culinary groups satisfy a broad range of product demands and profiles? Featured presenters William Bigelow, V.P., Business Development, R&D; and Jeff Wirtz, Corporate Executive Chef, take attendees inside Blount Fine Foods.


Spread The Love! Building Sabra’s R&D Program

Speaker: Tulin Tuzel, Chief Technology Officer, Sabra Dipping Company LLC, former V.P., Research & Development,
Sara Lee Corporation

The growing appeal of authentically ethnic flavors is about more than the desire for a new experience: A number of these offerings provide new functional health twists, and refrigerated hummus, dips and spreads have emerged as one of the supermarket’s fastest-growing categories. Likewise, Sabra Dipping Company LLC has been one of the food industry’s fastest-growing companies. Helping to guide Sabra’s R&D program—involving everything from new products to entirely new lines—has been Sabra’s chief technology officer, Tulin Tuzel, who will explain the R&D activities and thought processes behind a company quickly branching in a variety of directions.


Make plans to attend now, while airfare is still low!

Prepared Foods’ 2012 New Products Conference has arranged a special rate of $189 plus tax per night for attendees at The Ritz-Carlton in Palm Beach, Florida.

Make plans now to ensure availability. Register today and save $300!

For more information and the American Airlines discount code, visit or contact Marge Whalen at 847-405-4071