Breakfast Foods: A Culinary R&D Director’s Perspective
Prepared Foods talks breakfast with Amanda Zimlich, CEC, director of Culinary, Research & Development at Hillshire Brands, Chicago.
PF: Let’s look at breakfast at home and away from home. How are consumers changing?
Zimlich: The grab-and-go culture -- fueled by the lightning speed at which we all move -- has transformed almost all breakfasts into portable products. Consumers are becoming more food-savvy and more aware of “culinary” topics. They demand more bold flavors in all the foods that they eat, and breakfast is no exception. Our Jimmy Dean Pancake & Sausage on a Stick is an example of how we work to take breakfast comfort foods -- pancakes, maple syrup and savory pork and turkey sausage -- and work them into a brilliant evolution of the breakfast-style corndog. It’s a form for a unique and fun breakfast on the go.
PF:Are consumers thinking differently about breakfast?
Zimlich: I believe consumers understand breakfast is a prime opportunity to load up on fuel for the morning and get the metabolism going. I think the bar has been raised for eating experience and flavor delivery in breakfast foods, overall. The classic American breakfast did not used to be the most varied, boldly flavored meal of the day. Now, even the smallest offerings have been challenged to deliver on flavor, color, texture and freshness; and, they must be craveable, in order to meet consumers’ growing expectations on eating experience.
For example, our Delights by Jimmy Dean Turkey Sausage, Egg & Cheese on Honey Wheat Flatbread Sandwiches and our Delights by Jimmy Dean Spinach, Egg White & Mozzarella on Honey Wheat Flatbread Sandwich (one with meat and the other without) are two different answers to consumer needs for craveable, colorful, texturally pleasing, nourishing, fast and convenient breakfasts that don’t break the bank in calories -- and, “Oh, by the way, are good for you.” I look forward to more of our forthcoming innovation around flatbreads, as the form encourages culinary versatility.
PF:How has the Jimmy Dean product line has changed?
Zimlich: The Jimmy Dean brand has truly evolved from a pure sausage brand to a breakfast brand with a wide array of offerings -- from sandwiches to fresh sausage to other convenience options, such as pancake and sausage on a stick. The brand has been able to take the core competency of producing mouth-watering sausage and expand on that in very innovative ways within the frozen breakfast category.
PF:What’s your role and your biggest challenge in new product development?
Zimlich: Consistently, our challenge is to deliver a product that truly meets our consumer’s expectations on flavor and motivates them to buy that item again and again. Flavor balance of ingredients and components are inherently important in the development of every product.
Culinary has a responsibility to lead this piece of the process, applying culinary trends to the development of the concept; making the flavors relevant and exciting to consumers and competitive in the marketplace; and translating the complex layering of flavors and nuances to finished product (i.e., the right charred fat notes in a sausage patty, balanced sweetness in a bread component, etc.).
I always tell people I have the best job, as the chef gets to provide culinary expertise and work with the team, influencing flavor development. Though challenging, it feels great to see products come to life and deliver satisfaction.
PF: Let’s say you’re in the elevator with Hillshire Brands’ head of nutrition. What do you discuss?
Zimlich: I work closely with Susan Zaripheh, Hillshire Brands’ director of Wellness and Nutrition. One of the things we talk about frequently -- chef to “health and wellness guru” -- is the importance of protein at breakfast. It is a fact that most Americans get very little protein in their diet at breakfast, and research shows benefits of getting more protein at breakfast. It’s important that Hillshire Brands embraces this as an opportunity to innovatively give consumers varied solutions for breakfasts -- whether it’s convenience as the main need, or bold flavor delivery, we together have very important objectives to deliver against.
Years ago, nutritionists didn’t get a spotlight or as much chance to influence product development the way they do today. Similarly, culinary is being embraced more than ever in product development, because food has to taste best-in-class and be relevant to consumers in order to be competitive in the marketplace. In short, it’s a great time for both of our areas of expertise, and we are all the more powerful when collaborating to respond to these consumer needs.