The Marzetti Foodservice R&D team is constantly developing new product ideas and providing solutions. We asked our chefs to share where they get their inspiration and what happens when ideas don’t make the cut.
How do you go about creating recipe ideas?
Inspiration comes from a number of different sources, including personal dining experiences, food magazines, food and travel network programs, celebrity chefs, cookbooks, food trucks, internet research, supplier capabilities and presentations, competitive restaurant offerings and general trends in the industry.
Many times an idea is an extension of a concept that has been popular for many years, but gains new life with a different ingredient, a fusion of cuisines or deconstructing and bringing it to life in a new form…familiar with a twist.
Do you come up with ideas on your own or upon customer request?
Both. Our favorite type of project is Blue Sky where we distinguish ourselves in the industry by quickly being able to turn around on a variety of on-trend and relevant flavor profiles that complement our customer’s menu item.
In developing culinary presentations sometimes we are asked to develop concepts that fit a particular section of the menu such as “salad” and we can quickly respond with a variety of potential new salads influenced by various regional or ethnic profiles that demonstrate creativity and where we see industry trends going that could be relevant for that particular customer.
Other times, we are asked to explore a concept with more specific guidelines, for example to create southwest salads that do not use black beans.
We could also be asked to demonstrate innovative thinking by looking at a very specific concept with a detailed description that has passed through concept testing (for example mixed greens, chicken, bacon, tomato, corn and queso fresco with a southwest chile dressing) and coming up with ways to transform into different presentations.
Sometimes we receive a restaurant recipe where the product has been made in the back of the house and the restaurant is looking to gain consistency and quality throughout its stores as well as reduce back of the house labor.
What are the primary factors that determine whether a menu item does or doesn’t make the cut?
There can be several factors in determining why a menu item does or does not make the cut. Menu items and products are cut because they are not perceived as a good fit for a particular concept.
Sometimes, a product or menu item can fail simply by the name it is given. For example, several years ago knowledge about different kinds of peppers wasn’t as common as it is today and a sandwich sauce called Ancho Chile caused confusion with customers mistakenly thinking that the sauce contained anchovies! A simple name change resulted in customer acceptance and the sandwich became a hit!
Many foodservice concepts have formal programs in place to maximize the opportunity for success and mitigate failure. Consumer insight groups, focus groups and an increased use of social media help to screen ideas and assist in design. For national restaurant chains, some ideas and products that rise to the top usually proceed to in store testing at a few restaurants to get feedback about the product’s potential. This might lead to expanded testing at several stores in different cities as part of the national menu rollout process.
Has there been a recipe you were really passionate about that didn’t make it to menu? What happened?
Certainly. Sometimes, ideas are just a little ahead of their time. Fifteen years ago, we believed that restaurants could offer steel cut oatmeal with fruit based sauces to customize and elevate the oatmeal experience while offering a healthy breakfast alternative. The premise of the concept was that so many people use instant oatmeal as a quick and easy breakfast that they might appreciate the opportunity to buy oatmeal through a drive thru window when they purchased their coffee. None of our customers pursued at the time, however many years later quite a few restaurant chains have successfully launched that very idea!