Consumers’ evolving expectations and preferences are driving demand for constant innovation. To keep pace, product developers must master the languages of culinary arts and food science, said Jason Behrends, Ph.D., president of the Research Chefs Association (R.C.A.).
“We have to be bilingual in culinary arts and food science in order to move as quickly as possible because we’re living in a millennial world, and today what’s on the shelf may not be the same thing that’s on the shelf in six months or 12 months,” said Dr. Behrends, who also serves as the research and development director of Product Data Management Business Strategy at Tyson Foods, Inc., Springdale, Ark. “We have to develop products very quickly because our consumers want the new, exciting thing at all times.”
During its 20th annual conference and Culinology Expo, held March 14-17 in San Juan, the R.C.A. unveiled a new mission, vision and branding, underscoring its position at the intersection of culinary arts and food science. The association includes more than 1,800 members across all aspects of the industry, including ingredient suppliers, restaurant chains, grocery retailers and consumer packaged goods companies.
“The evolution from 10, 15 years ago, where it was, ‘I’m a scientist, and that’s all I do,’ or, ‘I’m a chef, and that’s all I do,’ to that blend of a chef and scientist working together and understanding each other’s view and speaking the same language is really beneficial throughout the process of developing products,” Dr. Behrends said during an interview at the event.
From an employer perspective, a hybrid of chef and scientist is a more valuable addition to an R.&D. team, said Catherine Proper, immediate past president of the R.C.A. and senor director of product development and quality assurance at Supervalu, Inc.
“I don’t want to have separate chefs and food scientists,” she said. “I want the two-for-one. I want the Culinologist. I want the person who has both skill sets.”
At the Culinology Expo on March 16, dozens of exhibitors showcased innovative products and formulations featuring trending flavors, ingredients and cuisines. The event offered inspiration for the hundreds of industry professionals in attendance who may be seeking customizable solutions in product development, said Chip Potter, executive director of the R.C.A. The theme of the conference, “Stir it up,” reflects the notion.
“The straight line of innovation doesn’t exist anymore,” Mr. Potter said. “It’s left, right, up, down… and smart people are walking this show not so much to say, ‘I’m looking for a new cinnamon or a new oil,’ but ‘I’m looking for something that’s going to appeal to a particular trend or a particular demographic that I didn’t think of until I got here, and suddenly two ideas came together, and I’m going to go back on Monday and sit down with my R.&D. team and have a conversation about something different.’”
During the event, Food Business News asked exhibitors about the trends guiding product development at their companies.
World of flavor
The Hawaiian fish dish poke is gaining mainland fame, said Andrew Hunter, the food service and industrial chef for Kikkoman USA in Los Angeles. He presented a Puerto Rican take on poke with red snapper, papaya, mango, cucumbers and a topping of sesame, seaweed and toasted coconut. New Kikkoman Preservative Free Poke Sauce combines soy sauce, sriracha hot chili sauce, sesame oil and premium spices to add a savory and spicy kick to fish, vegetables and grilled meat.
Japanese street food inspired the latest collection from Bell Flavors and Fragrances, Northbrook, Ill., which at the show sampled a Japanese coconut mochi cake, pickled lotus root and a modern take on tonkatsu, a traditional dish of breaded and deep-fried pork, featuring flavors of green sriracha and sansho, similar to Szechuan peppercorn.
Elizabeth Lindemer, corporate executive chef of Fuchs North America, Owings Mills, Md., said she sees demand for African flavors across a broad range of applications, from snack seasonings to sauces to marinades and rubs.
Trace the taste
A growing appetite for global cuisines has spurred interest in specific regional flavors, such as Tahitian vanilla or Saigon cinnamon.
“Consumers want to know where flavors come from,” said Genelle Franklin, marketing manager for Olam Spices & Vegetable Ingredients, Fresno, Calif. At the Culinology Expo, the company highlighted its farm-to-fork traceability capabilities and featured an assortment of hot sauces in such varieties as Moroccan carrot, Argentinian kale and Tunisian red pepper.
“To consumers, Sicilian lemon sounds more romantic and interesting” than a generic citrus flavor, said David Horrocks, lab manager at International Flavors & Fragrances in Chicago. His company sampled blood orange salsa-seasoned yucca root chips, featuring bright citrus notes that he said add a perception of freshness to the flavor profile.
Back to basics
Offering a “modern take on ancient grains,” Western Foods, Woodland, Calif., demonstrated the versatility of quinoa, sorghum, millet, amaranth, and market newcomer kaniwa in gluten-free formulations. Colin Garner, retail sales manager, said ancient grains continue to gain traction in bakery foods and snacks, as well as recent interest for use in batters, breadings and bread.
Today’s consumers are seeking a complex combination of familiar, identifiable ingredients, said Jeffrey Stopa, research chef and senior scientist at ADM Wild Flavors & Specialty Ingredients, a division of Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago.
“We also see a return to using classic techniques in cooking and traditional home cooking methods,” he added. “Braising is back.”
Pulses, the edible seeds of legumes, including dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas, are popping up in more and more new product launches, said Jessie Hunter, director of domestic marketing for the American Pulse Association and USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, Moscow, Idaho. Appearing in snacks, pastas, baked foods and beverages, pulses are considered a good source of protein, and excellent source of fiber, high in antioxidants, and rich in iron, potassium and folate.
At the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council’s booth, chef Charlie Baggs of Charlie Baggs Culinary Innovations, Chicago, dished up fudgy gluten-free brownie bites with a crunchy chickpea and pea crisp topping.
Chickpeas were the centerpiece of an offering presented by Connor Thompson, Culinologist at Ingredion in Providence, R.I., who showcased a soy-free Burmese tofu made with chickpea flour.
“There is a subset among the vegan community who are avoiding soy,” he said.