It now has the status of comfort food, yet offers a canvas of creativity that can earn a place in the world's finest restaurants. There may be no food on the planet that lends itself to variations in form and flavor quite like pizza. It's a roundtable for discussion, a regional identifier, a first date. Pizza is a vehicle as much as destination and for today's hurried consumer, it offers quick and creative satisfaction.
The team at Red Baron, part of Schwan's Consumer Brands North America, is well aware of the convenience and varied palates offered by pizza, and its latest trio of creations is a tasty testament to teamwork and an answer to consumer needs.
Recently, the brand launched several new incarnations of pizza for the hurried, hungry consumer. New from the collective minds of Schwan's is the Red Baron Deep Dish Pan Style Pizza, the first microwavable, eight-inch deep-dish pizza, which is available in four varieties: Pepperoni, Cheese, Supreme and Meat Trio. The pizza delivers a crisp crust pizza from the microwave in about 6 minutes Also launched were the Red Baron Stuffed Pizza Slices in six varieties, and the Deep Dish Mini Pizzas in four varieties. All items answer the American microwave-paced life.
"Pizza is the No. 1 food in America," says Stacey Lauen, new product development manager for Schwan's. Indeed, the company cites a 7.7 percent growth rate for the eight-inch pizza market. "Red Baron is the perfect brand to deliver a product for the changing way consumers are eating pizza for convenience. The microwave is key to that," says Lauen.
Building the squadron
In the late 1990's, Schwan's developed a process for new product development to facilitate communication between all facets of the company. The process shows architecture ripe for innovation through communication.
"One of the first things we did was arrive at a process that would allow us to develop world-class products through cross-functional teams," says Jo Gruber, new product development manager. "We created a process that included product development, packaging, purchasing, and operations. We also included external partners -- a number of whom are strategically important to us. Together we formed a process that allows us to be efficient."
A capstone to this commitment is the $12 million Marshall, Minn., facility that opened last fall. Though product developers may be in multiple locations, the Marshall facility offers fertile ground for culinary specialists and R&D folks to mingle and create.
"Our objective is to be the premier frozen food company. To do that, we made a heavy investment in research and development. The $12 million Marshall facility centralized our R&D, but we have R&D plant support in Kansas, Kentucky and Texas," says Lauen.
But with or without a proving ground, the key to the rollout of the Red Baron extensions was a common vision.
"We centralized the operation in culinary, sensory, regulatory, process engineering, product development and applied research in Marshall," explains Kristie Heis, product development manager. "Each of those resources is valuable for every project. Each function plays a key role and communication between them is key to successful product development."
"Some of the challenge was to help everyone in the group understand the bigger picture , the full scope of activities," adds Gruber. "First we had to provide that base and then establish a language that would help us best communicate the whole process."