Research chefs talk about bridging the gap between R&D and restaurant menu trends
Editor’s note: To learn more about how food companies navigate culinary trends, Prepared Foods reached out to the Research Chefs Association (RCA), a 19-year-old group whose 2,000 members include manufacturing, retail and foodservice chefs as well as associated ingredient and service suppliers.
Prepared Foods talks with RCA manufacturer members Jason M. Behrends, Ph.D., CCS Innovation PMO/PDM management at Tyson Foods, Inc. Springdale, Ark.; Erich Chieca, culinary sales manager-national accounts, Lactalis Culinary, a division of Lactalis American Group, Buffalo, N.Y.; and John Draz, CEC, CCE, CRC, executive research chef at Ed Miniat LLC, a meat processor based in South Holland, Ill.
Prepared Foods: You each have unique positions within your respective companies. Please tell us about your roles and responsibilities.
Jason M. Behrends: Being cross-trained in both the culinary arts and food science helps me guide projects through the challenges they face throughout the product development lifecycle. Our technologists and chefs continuously work together with our innovation and insights team to leverage key trends, think “food forward,” and develop superior tasting products our consumers will love.
Erich Chieca: I serve something of a dual role at Lactalis. I work in national account sales and in a culinary/R&D capacity, assigned to a specific group of accounts and region of the country (central US). I have sales responsibilities and menu development ideation responsibilities related to my customers. I also am responsible for internal product development and improvement and I work directly with R&D and quality assurance.
John Draz: My role is two-fold. I work with the sales staff to present products to customers in application. I also work as the first line in new product development, working with new raw materials, ingredients and processes.
PF: RCA developed term, “Culinology” in reference to research chefs’ blending culinary arts with food science. Please tell us about a new product from the past 18 months. How were you able to guide or enhance your team’s work?
Behrends: Tyson’s goal is to provide differentiated, high quality products for our consumers. Since the recent merger with The Hillshire Brands Company, our focus on innovation has increased even further. Our house of brands is enabling us to venture into new categories and opportunities. For example, we are stretching the Ball Park brand, which currently competes in the hot dog and frozen patty business, into another great “guy food” category this summer: jerky. I help oversee the governance process that approves new product initiatives for launch, and ensures they have all of the support they need.
Chieca: I was involved with new Creamy Brie, Creamy Cheddar and Creamy Feta cheeses under our President brand. Using customer meetings and samplings, I worked closely with our marketing, R&D and sales team to dial in the texture and flavors. We brought this line to market with key accounts with an idea to launch it across both the retail and foodservice channels. The line just launched this June and we already are picking up very nice business in retail and foodservice.
Draz: One of the more interesting recent projects involved a sandwich filling for a quick-service restaurant chain. We were able to create a shredded protein and on-trend sauce that cook together for an authentic flavor and texture. This project required collaborating with the culinary staff from the restaurant chain, along with culinary and product development teams from multiple suppliers.
PF: In your opinion, how has R&D changed during the past decade?
Behrends: Research and development continues to evolve and a typical technologist or chef, in the past, focused solely on their individual expertise. Because today’s consumers—especially Millennials—are seeking more unique varieties and benefits in their food, companies with top shelf R&D teams have become more creative in developing flavors, textures and forms to meet those needs. Having a strong understanding of both culinary techniques and culinary trends is critical in order to stay ahead of our competition.
Chieca: It has become very disciplined and focused on strategic development that is based on what the market is driving. Overall, it seems as though the marketing function drives [product] objectives and sometimes things are not always aligned as they should be with the customers’ needs in the center. I see less “discovery” or playing for discovery of what’s new.
Draz: In the past 10 years, the time associated with new product development has shrunk significantly. Meanwhile, marketing’s influence on the process has never been stronger.
PF: During same time, how has a corporate research chef’s role most changed?
Behrends: Our Tyson Foods research chefs have become more collaborative with our technologists to develop innovative products that meet the consumer’s needs. There is a constant need for continuous improvement. Each evolution of product has to be better in some way—whether that’s through better taste, nutrition, authenticity, convenience, value or environmental-friendliness. These are key attributes consumers always are looking for from our food.
Chieca: In some cases like mine, the corporate chef has become a “hybrid” position. I have multiple roles all the way from gold standard development, to scale-up, and to the sale. I work across all areas and with all the cross-functional teams (both internally and externally).
In most cases, it seems culinary is more tightly aligned with marketing than to sales. In my opinion, this counter-intuitive. I think that being with the customer is what helps drive ideas and innovation. Compared to years ago, I’d say today’s corporate chef also needs to have a strong business-entrepreneur mindset.
Draz: Our customer companies involve both the foodservice and consumer packaged goods industries. In each case, their R&D staffs now are smaller and leaner. Now more than ever, there’s more R&D work conducted by suppliers now—including companies such as Miniat as well as ingredient vendors.
PF: When did you join the Research Chefs Association? Why and how does it help your work?
Behrends: I joined RCA in 2006 when I was in R&D at Tyson Foods. One of the biggest drivers for R&D here at Tyson Foods is to promote team members’ continued training by blending culinary arts and food science. The Research Chefs Association provides great opportunities to build our knowledge base around culinary arts or food science through certification programs, conference educational sessions, regional events and webinars. Currently, Tyson Foods has more than 50 team members who are Certified Culinary Scientist and/or Certified Research Chefs.
Chieca: If memory serves me correctly, I want to say I joined RCA in 2006. I joined for multiple reasons: networking, meeting others with similar corporate roles, learning more about the blending of culinary and science disciplines and learning more about growing the business. I have made some great industry friends via the RCA.
Draz: I joined the RCA 10 years ago when I first went into full-time R&D. I was prompted to join by several respected colleagues. RCA has been valuable in providing professional education that meets the needs of food product developers. However, the most valuable benefit is as a platform for networking and exchange [of information] with peers.
PF: RCA recently met this spring in New Orleans. What were one or two sessions that interested you?
Behrends: There were so many great sessions this year in New Orleans at our annual “Future of Foods” conference. Sessions such as beverage trends may not be directly related to my work at a leading protein company, but they actually provide great inspiration and insight into concepts and trends that could apply to our product development for Tyson Foods, whether it is with our protein-based products, soups and sauces or bakery products.
Tyson Foods represents such a wide variety of leading brands now that the conference allowed me to look through a different lens than I had in previous years. Food trends are somewhat universal, so understanding the trends happening across the food and beverage industry as a whole is important to developing successful products.
Chieca: There was a great keynote address from New Orleans’ own Chef John Besh. He was very humble and really made you think about the food. I really enjoyed the craft cocktail session, which was interesting. It amazes me how the food and beverage industry evolves and redefines itself based on history. Last but not least, I also enjoyed a presentation titled, “The Butcher, The Baker, the ChiTown Scene Makers.” It featured Jacquy Pfieffer, founder and dean of student affairs at The French Pastry School; and Jimmy Banos, AOS, the chef/owner at Heaven on Seven and the Purple Pig. It’s always interesting to learn from these industry leaders.
Draz: I liked the general session presentation by Chef John Besh. His examples of how chefs can have a positive impact on their staff and communities was inspiring.
PepsiCo’s Kalil to Speak at PF’s New Products Conference
Consumers have a growing appetite for new and authentic food flavor adventures. With that in mind, PepsiCo is pushing new product innovation and culinary creativity—particularly involving flavor—to new heights. Just consider Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos or the company’s national, consumer-focused “Do Us a Flavor” contest. Or how about new Doritos Jacked 3D snacks with three-dimensional flavor delivery?
What’s happening at PepsiCo? One featured speaker at Prepared Foods’ New Products Conference, Sept. 27-30, will be Stephen A. Kalil, CEC, CRC, PepsiCo’s director of R&D and corporate executive research chef. Formerly the corporate chef at PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay unit, Kalil now heads global snack food culinary activities and is a key proponent of culinology, the process of integrating cutting-edge culinary taste, texture and flavor trends with food science.
Kalil will share a few insights about just how PepsiCo combines culinary arts and food science and how it approaches new product ideation and consumer and restaurant insights.
About the Research Chefs Association
Started in 1996 by a group of research chefs dedicated to overcoming challenges facing the food product development professional, the Research Chefs Association now boasts more than 2,000 members, including chefs, food scientists, technologists, writers, nutritionists, academics, researchers, consultants, sales and marketing professionals, suppliers, co-packers, distributors and students. RCA is considered the premier source of culinary and technical information specifically geared to the R&D professional. RCA members pioneered the discipline of Culinology,® the blending of the culinary arts and food science.
For more information Culinology® or the RCA, please visit www.culinology.org.