Editor’s Note: Although there may be a pandemic-related slowdown, there’s no stopping new product development targeted at the commercial and non-commercial foodservice sectors. To better help its readers with new product development strategy, Prepared Foods asked Jeff Miller, founder and CEO of Cutting Edge Innovation, to create a thought leadership series connecting R&D strategy to foodservice sales. Cutting Edge Innovation advises on foodservice strategy, sales, business development, and innovation and Miller also created an online course, “Turbocharge Your Foodservice Sales.” 

Miller has more than 20 years in the food and beverage industry and most recently was vice president and executive chef at Dunkin' Brands, Inc., one of the world's leading franchisors of quick service restaurants with over 20,000 locations in more than 60 countries. In this capacity, he led a team of 22 chefs, food scientists, bakers, and coffee experts. Miller led global innovation and product development for all Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins product categories.

Here is the first installment in a six-part series.

Welcome to my six-part monthly series where we cover one the six common mistakes that suppliers make when calling on national accounts in foodservice.  This month we’ll discuss mistake No. 6 on the list, which is “Not taking the time to understand the restaurant operations.”   

The six mistakes are themes I’ve compiled from my research with R&D and other professionals in the go-to market process at major national chains. My insights also are rooted my own experience leading R&D and innovation for both Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins.  

You might be asking, “Why should I care if my target customers are mainly in CPG, or Industrial, and are restaurants the right target in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic?”

Well it is extremely unfortunate that we’ll lose many smaller, independent restaurants that mean so much to our communities.  The largest foodservice chains, by contrast, are best poised to weather the pandemic, especially those with an established “to-go” or “on-the-go” model.  Growth can come from many channels, so educating yourself on the differences is important as business priorities shift.

If you want to be successful in foodservice, it’s critical to take the time to better understand a chain restaurant’s operations. Products that people will buy are one thing. Yet it’s another matter when you’re talking about products that your target chain restaurant can make consistently well.  This is perhaps one of the biggest and most important differences between calling on foodservice and other channels. Operations can be the single biggest hurdle to getting a product placement within a major chain.  

I’ll illustrate this with a pretty stark example. A supplier came in to do a presentation when I was in a senior R&D role. Interestingly enough, this supplier also was a friend with my CEO. This company thought very highly of their own products, and felt that it was just a perfect fit for my brand. 

At one point in the conversation the salesperson said: “It’s so easy. It’s pre-portioned and all you have to do is put it in your blender and you have your serving.” They were trying to show me it was easy for operations.  The trouble was that we didn’t have blenders in our restaurants!  I honestly couldn’t believe they didn’t take the time to clarify that essential fact before coming in to present.  That was extremely embarrassing for them and you can imagine we decided not to move forward with their product.  

You must take the time to understand how your product fits within a foodservice customer’s operations –in all aspects. Think through from when the product arrives to when the finished product is delivered to the customer.  

There are many considerations but here are just a few:

Q: Does it fit within existing storage and distribution methods? 

Q: Does it require thawing, or mixing with water, (or blending!)?  

Q: What is the shelf life and does that align with what the restaurant is used to and able to accommodate? 

Q: Is there an operational process that you have to fit within such as a certain number of pumps for a beverage syrup for different beverage sizes

Q: Is the product RTE or RTC and does that matter?  

Q: Can it meet the speed of service? 

Understanding operations was even critical for products that we developed in house.  Many products in my career did well in the go-to market process—all the way until they reached the restaurant. They may have scored well with consumers and tasted great, but if we couldn’t execute them well they would fail.  Some of these were items and new skill sets we thought would be easy to introduce. However, during testing at the operational level, we realized that the products wound up as a nightmare to implement.

If you are going to introduce a new skill set to the restaurant, make sure you can show the operations team a pipeline of additional items that also will be able to use that skill set. This way, they will see value in taking the time to introduce and not see as more than just a “one-off.”

Here’s the bottom line to connect successful R&D to sales. If you take the time to visit the restaurants and understand your target customer’s operations, you’ll stand out from many other suppliers presenting to that chain.  Like all fundamentals, it seems simple. However, it often is hard to execute well.

Learn more about Cutting Edge Innovation.

Learn more about the “Turbocharge” sales growth program.