Foodservice manufacturers introduce hundreds of new products at the National Restaurant Association's annual show in Chicago each year. Suppliers obviously look to these products to help them grow their business, but I've found they also offer interesting insights into the trends these companies see as especially significant in the onsite marketplace.
This year, as I walked the show, I posed this question to a number of them: “Point to a significant new product you have introduced, and to a major trend in the noncommercial operator community that you are looking to satisfy with it.” Here's how they responded.
John Machuzick, president, General Mills Bakeries and Foodservice. “While the low-carb craze has gotten a lot of attention, we strongly believe that longer-term, weight management is about much more than carbohydrates. It is about the balance between calorie control and exercise and about managing the number of calories in versus calories out.
“Many new, low-carb products we've introduced on the retail side also offer reduced calories and added fiber, attributes that will still be relevant when the low-carb craze stabilizes. In foodservice, we've tried to meet those needs with recent product introductions that include reduced-sugar bowlpack cereals, reduced-sugar Sunkist fruit shapes, Nouriche Light, a lower-calorie version of our Nouriche yogurt smoothie, and Yoplait Ultra low-carb yogurt.”
Catherine Phillips, vice president for foodservice marketing, Tyson Foods, Inc.“Our noncommercial customers are looking for products that provide convenience and consistency while tightly controlling costs. Tyson has introduced two new beef products that are on-trend in these areas.
“Our Petite Tenders offer the texture and lean appearance of top loin cuts with a more workable food cost, so they can serve classic beef dishes or upscale sandwiches, salads and stir-fries.
“Our fully-cooked Beef Short Ribs are perfect for noncommercial catering opportunities such as faculty, donor and physician events. Before, if you wanted the menu appeal of beef short ribs you had to start from scratch and slow-cook the meat, which took several hours and all of your oven space. Now, they can offer this distinctive cut of beef with heat-and-serve convenience.”
Alan Kahn, senior director of marketing, Simplot Foodservice. “Two recent product introductions illustrate how we approach trends in the non-commercial segments: the new Infinity french fry and Edamame. The new Infinity fries respond to consumers who have become more aware of the link between trans fats and heart disease, and are made with zero grams of trans fat. They have the taste and texture of a regular fry and taste just as good when prepared in an oven as when they're prepared in a fryer.
“Edamame offers our customers a high protein vegetable that is great for vegetarian diets. Since it is shelled, it can be added directly to soups, salads and stir fry dishes. It is a flavorful option well-suited for college campuses and any noncommercial operation where there is interest in health and wellness and soy-based options.”
Dave Pfanzelter, president, Kellog's Food Away from Home division. “We are introducing a new product—Drink'n Crunch—that plays to consumer demands for convenience and mobility. It is a single serve product, packaged in a double-walled cup: the inner cup contains cereal, while the outer chamber can be filled with milk.
“A unique, snap-on lid permits the consumer to mix the milk and cereal in his or her mouth as it is consumed, and that way the cereal never gets soggy. Innovation like this is always high-risk, but has the potential to yield high rewards.”
Tim Murray, president, Vulcan-Hart. “We get many of our ideas from the hands-on training we offer chefs in our test kitchens in Baltimore, and many product introductions are born out of practical needs. The Vulcan KleenScreen Filtration System is a good example. Many users who do a lot of frying told us they were frustrated by how much time and hassle are associated with keeping the oil clean in their gas and electric fryers. KleenScreen fryers have a lightweight, self-contained drawer filtration system with a mesh screen that requires less maintenance compared to paper filter replacement systems. Making filtration easier helps extend oil life, improve the taste of food and helps keep a fryer the most profitable piece of equipment in a kitchen.”
Kevin Malchoff, group president, US/Canada Group, Rich Products Corp. “Consumers are clearly more interested in more healthful food, but in talking with them we realized that ‘healthful' means many different things to different people. It may mean low-cal, low-fat, low sugar, high-protein, low carb, and so on. In our RichLife line, we have tried to develop products that let our customers offer foods to help their customers achieve a better balance in their personal diets and lifestyles.
“The RichLife line has par-baked breads and rolls that are higher in fiber, lower in carbs and have zero trans fat. Its cheesecake now comes in sugar-added/reduced-fat and fat-free options. There are smoothie mixes that are fat, cholesterol and lactose free; sugar-free cookies and sugar-free toppings. Our goal with all of these products is to offer consumers more choices, and more healthful choices.”
Alberto Zanata, president, Electrolux Professional NA. “We wanted to address the market's need for small, easty-to-install, plug-and-play pieces of equipment. The Libero line from Electrolux Dito features modules like a panini grill, an induction wok, broiler plates, cold plates and infrared or induction cooktops. Any two of these modules can quickly fit into the mobile Dito presentation counter, which also has a built-in ventilation system. This flexibility gives onsite operators a way to offer a wide-ranging menu in a small space and lends itself to changing concepts in and out as daily or daypart needs change.”
Paul Fregia, president, Grandma Maud's. “Two trends drove development of our new line: the consumer's demand for more truly authentic, ethnically diverse foods and the demand for more tasteful vegetarian options. Grandma Maud's Southern-style sides offer both. Products like our garlic collards, smothered cabbage, green beans and red-skinned potatoes, and red beans and rice provide authentic, consistent meal solutions while offering thaw-heat-and-serve convenience. They also can capture that ‘down-home cookin', ham-hock taste,' without any meat—and that was a real R&D challenge!.”