After 22 years as editor of BNP Media’s Refrigerated & Frozen Foods, I couldn’t help but notice the American Frozen Food Institute’s “Frozen Food Roundtable” initiative. Rolled out in 2014, the national consumer education and promotion campaign was called, “Frozen. How Fresh Stays Fresh.” In part, it debunked belief that fresh is nutritionally superior to frozen. Secondarily, manufacturer members such as Nestlé, ConAgra, Kellogg, Pinnacle and Schwan’s wanted to spur consumers to revisit the retail freezercase.
My thought two years ago was to encourage manufacturers to do even more. Whereas the “Frozen” campaign was an external one for consumers and retail customers, larger manufacturers needed to address the internal issues of R&D. Put simply, many retail items weren’t in step with consumer tastes or nutritional concerns. What’s been needed (particularly for larger companies) is a commitment to better new process development, the process by which R&D professionals gather and then integrate culinary and consumer trends.
Last month, Prepared Foods featured Nestlé’s new global R&D center in Solon, Ohio. In conjunction, Nestlé Prepared Foods President Jeff Hamilton told me that—yes, indeed, there’s been a problem. “The reality is that during the past five years or more, what’s been available to consumers in frozen hasn’t been on-trend with how eating habits have changed,” he said. “Newer brands are addressing that while larger, long-established brands have not been in-step with trends and food culture. We’ve had the right intentions but our efforts did not go far enough.”
“Frozen is truly convenient and sales results aren’t a knock on a category—rather a lack of relevance of products in the category,” he continued. “Food culture is very dynamic and always changing. Trends come quickly and we have to be able to identify and address them in real time. That applies for every brand in the category. We now have R&D on site—on this campus—and right across from our marketing people. We believe this combination will translate to real-time consumer insights and product advances.”
There are more signs of new R&D process development, including the Schwan’s Chef Collective. On the heels of simplicity ingredient initiative, The Schwan Food Company recruited seven external up-and-coming chefs to help scout emerging ingredients, cooking methods and global cuisines.
“Our team is constantly eating, tasting and sampling, and we gain insights from other leaders in the food world,” said Stacey Fowler, Schwan’s senior vice president of product innovation and development. “Schwan’s Chef Collective enables us to dive deeper into emerging trends and consumers’ ever changing lifestyles to develop new, delicious and wholesome recipes with quality ingredients.”
Next, consider newly formed Sonoma Brands. After selling his KRAVE jerky business to Hershey, KRAVE founder Jon Sebastiani created this Sonoma, Calif., business as a consumer products incubator and venture fund. His goals are to innovate and invest in category disrupting brands.
“We are dedicated to developing foods that are both better-for-you AND absolutely delicious,” says Sebastiani.
If I had a glass of wine right now, I’d raise it for Mr. Sebastiani and all of you striving to increase the odds of meaningful new product success. Here’s to you!