To see or not to see. That is the question. Some new food and beverage products make a strong visual statement. Others add value in more subtle ways. No matter what, Rich Products Corp. strives for new products that address foodservice operator needs. 
This private Buffalo, N.Y.-based company processes and sells nearly 1,300 items into every foodservice channel, as well as in-store deli-bakeries and convenience stores. Rich’s line includes whipped toppings, pizza doughs, flatbreads, cheesecakes, cakes, ice-cream cakes, breads, rolls, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, meatballs, BBQ, value-added seafood, shrimp and even cheese-based appetizers. 
Acquisitions and R&D investments are helping Rich’s expand its product portfolio and customer innovation capabilities. Meanwhile, with such a large and diverse product line, how does Rich’s focus in on the best new product opportunities? Jamie McKeon, vice president of marketing-Foodservice Division, notes how the IFMA Center of Innovation Excellence (CIE) project has helped.
“We are leveraging learnings from CIE into our new product process,” she says. “We are revamping our speed-to-market efforts and taking a segment-focused, problem-specific approach to all new product development. Our products are developed for a variety of segments, such as K-12, convenience store and quick-service restaurant (QSR), and address a unique problem for those particular segments.”
Rich’s officials shared two examples involving the company’s whipped topping and pizza lines: one case that’s quite evident to operators and consumers, while the other is more subtle -- yet equally important.
In the first case, Rich’s saw convenience store operators compete for gourmet coffee and value-added hot/cold beverage sales -- but lose revenues to coffee retailers and QSRs. How could c-store operators quickly and easily enhance their offerings in a limited space?
“We developed the mytop dispenser, featuring Rich’s On Top,” says Sarah Jane Burke, foodservice division associate marketing manager-Toppings and Icings. “mytop is a self-service whipped topping dispenser that lets patrons customize their hot and cold beverages …This is helping store owners keep their current customers and attract new ones.”
Burke notes that c-store customers -- old and new -- like the program, because it’s “affordable -- with no complicated cost-recovery programs.” She says mytop also provides a functional solution, because the topping dispenser requires no electricity or batteries. Meanwhile, its slim, sleek profile lets operators position it anywhere within a store.
How about a product improvement consumers wouldn’t normally notice? Loraine Grimm, foodservice marketing manager-Pizza, says K-12 school nutrition directors must balance meal participation to comply with new federal nutritional guidelines -- requiring meals that satisfy a 51% whole-grain standard.
Rich’s recently introduced a proof-and-bake, sheeted whole-grain pizza dough. Grimm says it features white whole-wheat flour -- the nutritional equivalent to conventional whole wheat -- yet it produces pizza with a texture, taste and appearance similar to products made using all-purpose flour.
“Pizza is one of the highest performing menu items in schools, but, with the new nutritional guidelines, it is difficult to menu,” says Grimm. “Rich’s whole-grain pizza crust meets the nutritional requirements at the right cost target and tastes great for students.”
Interestingly enough, pizza was a key factor in of one of two 2012 acquisitions by Rich’s. It purchased Goglanian Bakeries, a Santa Ana, Calif., maker of par-baked pizza crusts, flatbreads and pita. In tandem, Rich’s also bought f’real foods, an Orinda, Calif., company specializing in authentic milk shakes, smoothies and frozen coffee beverages, along with patented blending equipment.
Last, but not least, Rich’s also is investing -- in itself.
“We are spending approximately $18 million to build a new global Customer Innovation Center, renovate our R&D facilities and renovate our world headquarters in Buffalo,” McKeon notes. “The new Customer Innovation Center and enhanced R&D facilities will serve as the focal point of a ‘must-visit destination’ for customers and business partners from around the world.”
McKeon concludes, “We will leverage this new center to provide product training and on-the-spot new product development, utilizing equipment that will replicate the kitchen environment of our targeted operator segments.”