Meet... Lynn Waldman
Director of Research & Development, Little Lady Foods

Education: B.S., Food Science, Dominican University, 1989

Experience: Waldman joined Chicago meat processor Otto and Sons as plant microbiologist in 1989. She next served for 10 years as R&D manager at Orval Kent, a Chef Solutions refrigerated deli salads business. She next served as manager-product applications for The Pampered Chef. In 2009, she joined contract processor Little Lady Foods as senior manager of research and development. Little Lady promoted her in 2010 to her current position.

Associations: Institute of Food Technologists (IFT)

Where you’ll find her: Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and Chicago section IFT meetings
New offerings include thin crust deli pizzas, “Stone-Fired” products. Shown here: Little Lady’s Buffalo Chicken pizza.


Prepared Foods’ “Food for Thought” feature interview series involves food company R&D professionals, nutritionists, research chefs and other industry executives. 
In this edition, “Food for Thought” talks with Lynn Waldman, Little Lady Foods’ director of research and development. Little Lady Foods, Elk Grove Village, Ill., is a national supplier of frozen premium pizzas, sandwiches and hand-held items for private label, foodservice and contract customers.

Prepared Foods: Little Lady's business model certainly is diverse. How do you allocate your time?

Lynn Waldman: This is a great question. First of all, the only way you will get through a week at Little Lady Foods is to truly have an entrepreneurial spirit. This natural ability to sort of and flow with change makes it sort of second nature.

Our time is driven by project launch deadlines and key milestones in those timelines. Because we have so many timelines to overlay on top of each other --we reset priorities weekly to be sure the teams are focusing on the right projects at the right times. It isn’t easy but we love it!

PF: Customer requests must drive much of your activity. How can you be proactive and "wow" customers and/or prospective customers?

Waldman: You are correct. Many of our projects are driven by a customer’s need. Some customers bring us a fully developed project to launch, but some will have great idea or product criteria and ask us to “bring it to life.”

Those are the projects where our culinary team “wows” them! But you’d be surprised where we add just something seemingly simple and it becomes a “voila!” moment for our customer. A unique shape or size can really take something sort of average and make it different from the rest.

PF: Can you talk a few fun projects? What made them interesting?

Waldman: Fun projects are those where we know we contributed and helped drive excitement and success. It can be something seemingly as small as helping a customer select a unique pepperoni to give a pepperoni pizza a unique twist. It’s also fun to take a customer on a culinary tour of Chicago’s pizzerias and explain how each crust is made and what makes it unique.

PF: So can you tell us about few new product examples?

Waldman: We developed an awesome line of thin crust deli pizzas for the grocery store segment. Mastering this project stretched us and led to some new techniques for applying particulates. It's really fun when one project leads to some exiting new opportunities.

We are developing some very interesting dough items that resemble a calzone, which makes for a great meal. This is another new capability and one that we are very excited about. Finally, I’d note that LLF recently added another “Stone-Fired” line of products. This continues to be something our customers look for in regard to product quality.

PF: How have Little Lady’s R&D capabilities evolved and grown during the past three to five years?

Waldman: We have deeper and more diverse technical expertise within the R&D group; greater knowledge of sweets, meat, sauces, oils and more refrigerated and frozen applications. Of course, our dough expertise always continues to expand. It’s awesome to have such an experienced and diverse group. If we have a challenge, the team can usually get together and “think tank” through it.

PF: Little Lady expanded its culinary center—complete with separate ideation and presentation kitchens—back in 2011. Why was that important?

Waldman: Our customers have changed over the years. There’s greater demand for development “from the ground up” so we needed more space to house the team. We also needed separate spaces for development and presentations. I hope to do another expansion in 2013!

PF: Has your R&D staff also grown?

Waldman: We have added another highly talented food technologist. Now we’re better positioned to continually support our customers’ new product visions and partner with them. Understanding what our customers need is critical for project success. Our ownership realizes that and is committed to investing in our R&D team.

PF: Does LLF have a corporate executive chef?

Waldman: Because our customer base is so diverse we have a few executive chefs that we contract with, as needed.. We found that one chef doesn’t always fit all our customers. Being able to find the right chef for the right project has been a more successful approach.

PF: There’s food science and microbiology in your background. How do those experiences influence you?

Waldman: They help me in the obvious ways, starting with a better technical understanding of foods and functional foods. But probably just as important are the specific experiences during those periods of my career. I also think the people—early on—who taught me, challenged me to grow and helped me understand that learning never ends.

PF: Co-packing has certainly grown during the past five to seven years. What might be a few things most prospective customers don't realize about co-packers? What advice would you share?

Waldman: Find a co-packer that fits your needs. Some have very specific capabilities and are very good at their niche. Other companies, like ours, are more versatile and offer full R&D services. Most people don’t think of co-packers as versatile.

PF: Let's talk about foodservice new product development. What industry issues / opportunities drive your efforts there?

Waldman: Foodservice has been interesting but not much has changed during the past 12 months. Children’s menus are focused on lower sodium as well as reduced fat and fewer total calories. Adult menus are looking for prepared food that looks like it was made in the back of the house but really it’s just cooked in the back – fully assembled elsewhere. Both challenge us to do more and push the limits, trying to do more but not necessarily increase the cost. Challenge makes us better overall so these types of situations are usually really good for us.

PF: What industry issues and opportunities are driving your private label new product efforts? Can you share an example?

Waldman: This is much more complicated [than foodservice]. Each private label is its own separate business. Some labels look for nutritional claims. Some look for overall claims like “all natural” or “organic.” Some labels try to strive for both low cost and bountiful toppings and ingredients. These are all very different situations that require different ways of thinking. So, once again, I say there’s nothing like a good challenge!

PF: What were a few goals coming into 2012? How's it going so far? What are a few objectives for the end of this year?

Waldman: As busy as we are with lots of new product launches, our constant goal is solid performance as an organization. We are launching some great items and we just want to be sure our new products are commercialized well and that we hit the project goals. The goals are not only ours but those of our customers.

PF: What types of issues keep you up at night?

Waldman: Usually just the total project load. By choice, we don’t have a lot of customers. So the ones that we have are really important to us. We want to keep everyone happy!