Product developers know the formula for success involves two different dimensions. In part, it’s literally the right combination of ingredients. Secondly, it’s the right combination of marketing, timing and distribution as well portion size, packaging, pricing and on-trend positioning.   

Then again, Prepared Foods also views product development success from a third perspective. As a title dedicated to the broader product development process, Prepared Foods also includes teamwork—the coordination and cooperation of research chefs, product developers, nutritionists and others–among criteria for the magazine’s annual Spirit of Innovation (SOI) awards.   

Co-sponsored by Ventura Foods, Prepared Foods’ 11th annual SOI competition drew a record 69 entries, including 56 retail products and 13 foodservice channel offerings. To be considered, those new products had to have been introduced either last year or up to May 2014. BNP Media food and beverage magazine editors and staffers then evaluated and ranked submissions against several criteria—including demonstrated teamwork, a product’s unique positioning and prospects for market success.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this year’s winners include products addressing improved health and/or allergen-control, authentic and ethnic flavors, value-added convenience (for consumers and/or foodservice operators) and premium, restaurant-at-retail quality.   


Fun and naan-sense

Prepared Foods’ top retail vote getter is fgf brands, a Toronto-area bakery celebrating its 10-year anniversary. Led by the Ajmera family, this Concord, Ont., operation specializes in frozen private label and foodservice muffins and loaves; in addition to a retail packaged line of branded Stonefire Authentic Flatbreads (naan, pita and pizza crust).   

With consumers’ growing interest in snacking, fgf says its R&D team spent several years developing and refining a traditional naan recipe that could be formulated as a snack chip. Co-founder Ojus Ajmera says that’s when the real work began.   

“Our final product, Stonefire Naan Crisps, came from a collaborative effort that took R&D, marketing and operations all working together to create the product,” he says. “Along the way, they had to overcome obstacles related to ingredient sourcing, manufacturing equipment, packaging and product.”

Ajmera notes that Stonefire Authentic Naan Crisps feature a traditional teardrop shape because naan bread is traditionally hand-stretched before baking. fgf then uses a proprietary baking technology to match the heat of a traditional tandoori oven. It describes Naan Crisps as “flamed baked” to create an airy crunch. The product debuted this May in four flavors: Original, Everything, Garlic Parmesan and Tandoori Spice.   

Like all Stonefire products, Naan Crisps are made without artificial preservatives, additives, artificial colors, trans fat or hydrogenated oils. A 7oz bagged serving contains 120 calories.   

Also targeting that authentic, ethnic taste experience is Woodland Foods, this year’s second-place retail winner. The Waukegan, Ill., firm manufactures and markets retail gourmet grain-based side dishes under the Manitou Trade Company name. Earning SOI accolades is Woodland’s Porcini Funghi Risotto, one of six new flavored, quick-cook rice and pasta dishes in Manitou Trading’s Naturally Seasoned Fusions line.

“Innovation was at the forefront with these fusions, with the intent of introducing familiar yet traditionally difficult and time-consuming dishes to the home cook in a simple, quick, and efficient product,” notes Woodland Foods.   

To its point, Woodland Foods has targeted some challenging, restaurant-style side dishes—and made them easy to prepare at home. Other varieties include Butternut Squash Risotto, Cajun Dirty Rice, Moroccan Spiced Couscous, Paella Rice and Spinach Florentine Risotto. Here’s how officials describe Funghi Porcini Risotto:   

“A combination of Arborio rice with porcini and other premium mushrooms, carefully seasoned with herbs, spices, and aromatics, this fusion removes the laborious and lengthy process of cooking delicious risotto and building flavor and complexity minute by minute. The consumer palate continues to rapidly evolve, and this product makes foods like porcini mushrooms and Arborio rice accessible at only 18-23 minutes of cooking time—all without sacrificing that extraordinary flavor that risotto is known for.”

Interestingly enough, ancient grains also are featured in Smart Flour Foods’ new Uncured Pepperoni Pizza, another 2014 SOI honoree. Of as many as 56 new retail products considered, Smart Flour Foods and Hormel Foods tied for third-place honors—each with convenience meal options.   

Already known for its popular gluten-free foodservice pizza crusts, Smart Flour Foods, Austin, Texas, developed three gluten-free frozen pizzas, which debuted last fall in Whole Foods Markets. These pizzas (also including Classic Cheese and Garden Margherita) feature the company’s blend of three ancient grains: amaranth, sorghum and teff. Officials say ancient grains contribute more vitamins, minerals and fiber—with each crust providing 4g of fiber and a whole pizza providing 6g of fiber.   

“Using these grains—instead of rice or potato flour—gives our foods great texture, unrivaled flavor and high nutritional value, all while remaining gluten-free,” the company says.   

No less important, Smart Flour Foods knows consumers also want good taste and a complete better-for-you product. Officials note that the pepperoni does not contain nitrates or nitrites and that the fresh cheese is made from cow’s milk not treated with rBGH (no synthetic hormones). The pizza also may be considered an excellent source of protein and calcium. It also does not contain monosodium glutamate or artificial preservatives.   

For its part, Hormel Foods, Austin, Minn., has been long associated with pepperoni and other prepared meats. Yet Hormel has transformed itself into a diversified packaged-food company with a broad range of items to match shifting consumer tastes.  One of those trends, of course, involves snacking. Combine snacking with elements of portability and protein—and Hormel Foods found what it regarded as “white space” (market opportunity) in 2010.   

For the next three years, as many as 10 departments—including R&D, operations, engineering, consumer insights, innovation, purchasing, packaging, marketing, sales and cost accounting—got behind the company’s new Hormel REV Wrap. Today, Hormel Foods describes the item as the ideal “snack for on-the-go teens and adults to sustain energy and satisfy hunger.”   

Launched last July, Hormel REV Wraps have 15g of protein or more and feature real meat and cheese. They come in single-serve packages and are currently available in 16 varieties: Pepperoni Pizza, Ham and Cheese, Peppered Turkey, Three Meat Pizza, Ham & Mozzarella, Spicy Ham & Cheese, Italian Style, Spicy Italian, Ham and Swiss, Turkey and Cheese, Ham and Turkey, Pepperoni and Ham, Bacon Club, Turkey Bacon Ranch, Buffalo Chicken, and Jalapeno Pepperoni.  A three pack of Pepperoni Pizza also is available.


Wise Choices

Snacking, convenience—and an emphasis on flavor—also are key themes in foodservice product development.   

Interestingly, this year’s leading SOI foodservice winner, McCain Foods USA also takes a better-for-you approach. The Lisle, Ill.-based business is a division of global processor McCain Foods Ltd., Florenceville, N.B. McCain says it invested more than 10 years to develop a trademarked Wise Fries batter recipe that “keeps just enough oil on the outside for great taste and crispness while maintaining the great potato flavor inside.”   

“The challenge was to create a fried French fry for the foodservice arena that contained at least 30% less fat and offered no taste compromise versus a traditional French fry,” officials say. “This challenge was especially difficult in that deep-frying from frozen is a relatively abusive and extreme process. Also, the uptake of oil during the frying step had to be mitigated by a thin, nearly invisible batter layer on the product.”   

McCain says its Wise Fries development and commercialization involved an international cross-functional team of multiple disciplines: fundamental research innovation, process innovation, regulatory, product development, operations, marketing, procurement, global quality and technical services—as well as collaborative efforts with multiple key suppliers.   

Last September saw Burger King Worldwide Inc. embrace the technology in its national launch of Satisfries. Although that distribution has since been scaled back, McCain is marketing its Wise Fries technology and learnings to other foodservice customers, including school foodservice operators.   

Seafood processor High Liner Foods USA, Danvers, Mass., chose full flavor as its product development target. Combining consumer interests in traditional American barbecue and full-flavor beers, High Liner partnered  with Diageo to create a line of Icelandic Seafood brand products featuring Guinness Stout. Prepared Foods’ second-place SOI foodservice vote getter is a Flame-Seared Guinness BBQ Glazed Atlantic Salmon entrée. High Liner announced the line’s debut this March.   

“Beer has been labeled the ‘new wine’ and has become one of the top food ingredients in the industry,” says Jim Papadakis, a brand manager with High Liner’s Icelandic Seafood line. “By developing a proprietary recipe with Guinness, High Liner Foods is able to provide its customers with a premium line of breaded, battered and flame-seared glazed seafood that carries the prestige of the Guinness brand name and delivers a truly tantalizing option for every menu application.”   

Of course, the behind-the-scenes process was not simple. In fact, it involved a cross-functional team of marketing, culinary, R&D, and operations at High Liner Foods USA, as well as marketing and R&D at Diageo, the parent company of Guinness Stout.   

High Liner says the finished product utilizes a flame-searing process recently developed at High Liner. Perfecting flavor and functionality proved to be a challenge, however, as all renditions were submitted to Diageo for spider graph matching of the Guinness Stout flavor profile. High Liner Foods’ team faced the challenge of marrying the flavors of Guinness Stout with traditional American BBQ. Officials say flavor development started in the kitchen as a simple scratch BBQ sauce developed at High Liner Foods’ Newport News facility. This BBQ sauce was then translated into a functional glaze in the company’s Danvers facility with the culinology group. After considerable trial and error, all teams involved agreed upon the final formulation.   

How about another product that’s sophisticated but deceptively simple for foodservice operators? The SOI third-place award winner is Falafel Scoop and Go from Mediterranean Brands, Glenview, Ill.

President and founder Chef Richard Hicks describes Falafel Scoop and Go as an all-natural blend of chickpeas, fava beans and a variety of vegetables, spices and herbs. The product is a bulk falafel mix (three, 5lb bags per case) and operators can portion and shape falafel to suit their needs. Product can be used as an appetizer, be placed on the salad bar or hot bar, used behind the deli counter, in the grab-and-go department or can serve as a center-of-the plate item. Operators also add their own touch to the mix.

Besides its ethnic appeal, Scoop and Go has nutritional protein, fiber and clean label benefits. Hicks adds that the product also is certified non-GMO by the Non-GMO Project.   

Says Hicks, “These attributes, along with our clean label, position our product perfectly in the marketplace because our nation has shifted to a country that puts effort into making the right food choices for themselves and their families.”