Prepared Foods and award sponsor Ventura Foods honor the teamwork that has led to innovative food and beverage launches during the past year.

1st Place – Foodservice:

King & Prince Seafood - Jalapeno & Cream Cheese Stuffed Shrimp

Recognizing that bacon-wrapped shrimp is the number one seafood appetizer in casual dining, per Technomic’s April 2012 Menu Monitor, King & Prince Seafood also saw the popularity of heat as a flavor profile in both foodservice and retail. After all, Mintel research has noted that jalapeño is one of the top 10 pepper names on menus, and a 2013 Mintel survey found 65% of consumers noted “spicy” as a favorite flavor.

Furthermore, Mintel Menu Insights research found applewood-smoked flavor is growing by double digits. How would King & Prince combine three such emerging trends in one product?

The answer would be a Jalapeno & Cream Cheese Stuffed Shrimp: a sweet and tender, once-frozen shrimp, stuffed with a creamy jalapeño-cream cheese filling, all wrapped up in an entire slice of applewood-smoked bacon.

“Our goal was for a unique item with a restaurant feel,” explains Susan Gurkin, director of innovation at King & Prince Seafood. “[King & Prince’s] current seafood offerings were evaluated by a cross-functional team (R&D, sales, marketing, QA, procurement, finance, operations), and these items were the springboard for a true ideation to determine what item(s) to move forward.”

“An ideation was held, and concepts were ranked for feasibility (fit, source, pricing and timeline),” recalls Katie Herndon, research scientist with King & Prince. “King & Prince has been able to make that great appetizer ‘trouble-free.’”

Competition would prove key to developing the winning line, Herndon notes. “At the time of development, there was a competitive bacon-wrapped stuffed shrimp product on the market. What would make ours different? We needed to create a premium product. The competitive products we evaluated were made with manufactured-looking ‘squares’ of filling. It did not appear to be a high-quality, scratch-made product. We knew our ‘stuffing’ had to be decadent, without being too extravagant, and had to offer the appearance that the hostess spent all day preparing it. The bacon had to complement the filling and the shrimp, and it had to be easy to prepare.”

Gurkin says the development of the product involved a certified chef with a strong flavor background for the initial product attribute development, as well as a food scientist with deep seafood-processing knowledge for developing processing steps and capabilities for the company’s desired finished product attributes.  That food scientist would also prove key in working with a co-packer/partner to fill internal capability gaps, she recalls.

“A procurement director used supplier/partner relationships to manage and meet the strict raw material requirements, while a dry ingredient and packaging procurement specialist coordinated with the co-packer/partner on sourcing/staging/timing/deliveries,” says Gurkin. 

Account representatives and marketing individuals also maintained a strong communication with the vendors and worked with packaging design vendors and partners to create appealing designs and a system that was both sustainable and that optimized the customers’ shelf-planning.

“Brainstorming for the line took place in October of 2011,” Gurkin relates, “and the product was launched in November of 2012.” She notes the whole process was new to King & Prince and required a strong degree of on-the-spot innovation and strategizing.

“The entire process was new to us, our raw material supplier and our co-packer. There was a project timeline, as well as regularly scheduled updates,” Gurkin explains, “and people were held accountable for their deliverables. The biggest factor that contributed to overcoming the obstacles was the entire team’s attitude: All believed it could be done; that it would be a great product; and did their best to make sure it was.”

2nd Place – Foodservice:

Maple Leaf Farms - Applewood Smoked Duck Bacon

Healthy bacon might sound like something of a contradiction in terms, but the developers at Maple Leaf Farms managed that challenging feat with a somewhat unexpected protein source. The result is Applewood Smoked Duck Bacon with 61% less fat and 26% less sodium than pork bacon: a healthier alternative to most lean bacon options in the marketplace.

The product is made with the company’s premium, boneless duck breast meat and promises the texture and flavor of regular bacon-- but with the nutritional benefits of poultry bacon. Maple Leaf notes the product can serve as the centerpiece of a frittata, sandwich or salad, but it also has found its way into chef-created recipes.

Its development would require a true cross-functional team -- from R&D, operations, planning and marketing -- working together to overcome such challenges as material sourcing, balancing salt levels and managing texture issues.

3rd Place – Foodservice:

Tyson Foods - Dirty Rice

Tyson Foods’ Dirty Rice is a hearty, flavorful rice side dish made with long-grain rice and fine cuts of pork, and seasoned with bell pepper, celery and onion. Tyson’s research reveals all deli side dishes had grown in dollar sales compared to the prior year, with prepared rice dishes up 10%. However, while other side dish sales tend to peak around the holidays, prepared rice dishes maintain consistent sales throughout the year.

Suitable as a side dish or an entrée on its own, Tyson’s Dirty Rice did present a challenge: a formula that delivered on flavor but that could perform well in a deli case for up to two hours under heat lamps, while also using existing kettle equipment. Tyson’s Deli and Convenience Store team managed to create a product that met those exacting standards and flowed freely from the kettle to the pump.

1st Place – Retail:

Classic Cooking LLC - Veggie Muffins 

Classic Cooking had a host of goals in mind in developing its own take on a vegetarian muffin. They were looking to create an option for consumers managing their weight, so the muffins were formulated to have only 120 calories, and every item in the line has 4.5g of fat or less. The company recognized parents need a healthy addition to add to a child’s lunch or for a snack-time ritual, so developers opted for kid-friendly flavors and mouthfeel. For consumers trying to incorporate more vegetables into their diets, the muffins are completely vegetarian; and for the allergen-free community, the products are free of gluten.

Developing the product would prove a challenge for Classic Cooking, as a vegetarian muffin is a brand-new product type for the company.

“Our inspiration was to find another innovative way to serve vegetables rather than the standard side dish application,” says Jeff Moskowitz, company co-founder. “Typically, our products are savory. Our core brand, Garden Lites Vegetable Soufflés, are savory and great for light meals, so we wanted to branch out into a sweeter segment that could be utilized as a breakfast item, snack or better-for-you dessert.”

“We were looking to create a product line that expanded the Garden Lites brand into new categories of the frozen food section and created additional eating occasions for our consumer,” explains Kathryn David, research chef with Classic Cooking LLC. “Jeff Moskowitz, who heads up R&D, had mentioned his wife’s zucchini chocolate chip bread and thought if zucchini and chocolate chips worked well together, we can really lean into that idea.”

The initial launch flavor would indeed be Zucchini Chocolate (joined later by Carrot Berry, Zucchini Banana Chocolate Chip, Veggie Blueberry Oat and Golden Corn) and would demonstrate just how different it would be for the company to develop the new range.

“We developed at least 15 versions of our first launched flavor, Zucchini Chocolate Veggie Muffins,” David notes. “Our main concern was finding the right supplier of cocoa and the best combination of cocoa powder and chocolate chips. We then used that basic formulation to create our four other flavors, all of which needed unique adjustments, depending on the moisture content of the vegetables being added and of the additional fruits and flavor ingredients.”

“The biggest challenge for R&D,” David continues, “was to create a muffin that was appealing to the mainstream consumer
while still remaining gluten-free, like the rest of the Garden Lites brand. And, although Veggie Muffins are sold frozen, and we recommend to heat before serving (for a freshly baked taste), it was also important to us that the texture and moistness remained even when the product is defrosted and eaten at room temperature -- to increase the product’s usage for consumers.”

The Veggie Muffins’ batter consistency is unlike typical muffin batter, which necessitated a close evaluation of ingredients and sizes of additional chips and fruit pieces.
For that matter, it would even involve the company’s sourcing of brand-new equipment that could produce the muffins.

Over the course of a year, from concept to product launch, “all of our teams had a role to play in the production of Veggie Muffins: formulation and ingredient selection from the R&D end, and processing and plant flow-through from Production and Quality Departments. Our current suppliers were helpful in identifying different ingredients that may be useful in our project, but Veggie Muffins required brand-new suppliers, ingredients and equipment,” David explains.

2nd Place – Retail:

Gardein - Beefless Sliders and Crispy Chick’n Sliders 

Developing vegetarian options can present a host of challenges: everything from formulation to meeting the expectations of an increasingly demanding vegetarian consumer base. Gardein not only managed those goals, but also delivered a pair of products free of both cholesterol and trans fat.

The company’s Ultimate Beefless Sliders and Crispy Chick’n Sliders promise to “meet the rising consumer demand for meatless foods that offer an abundance of unmatched flavors and texture.”

The microwavable sliders also are low in calories and high in protein. The sliders themselves result from a proprietary process and feature a signature blend of slow-cooked soy, wheat and pea proteins, as well as organic ancient grains and vegetables to deliver a “meat-like” taste, the company notes.

3rd Place – Retail:

Koa Organic Beverages - Organic Water 

This year’s third-place recipient is recognized for a product whose name is something of a misnomer. Koa Organic Beverages’ product is, in fact, Organic Water, but the company notes the term is used to describe sugar-free juice. After all, Koa Organic Water is made 100% from vegetation.

Koa’s water is purified by nature and squeezed from fresh organic fruits and vegetables, with no calories, additives or sugar. As Koa notes, juices are popular (to some degree) for their natural nutrition, vitamin content and health-related benefits. However, consumers need to cut their sugar consumption, a reaction to rising obesity and diabetes levels.

 Koa’s Organic Water also boasts vitamins B6, E and C, as well as zinc and potassium. Make no mistake: Koa’s Organic Water targets consumers of coconut water, pomegranate juice and kombucha, i.e., those looking for a healthier beverage option. Ultimately, its development would involve not only the Koa company founders, but various farmers and fruit processors from across California’s Central Valley.