A Flair for Innovation

Rich Products Corp. has a history of breakthrough technologies. A look beneath the surface shows the chef's touch on its many successful product lines.

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Rich Life addressed the need to provide customers with healthier options with great taste. The line has spanned most of the company’s product categories from baked goods to beverages. It features: par-baked breads and rolls, higher in fiber, low in fat, with no trans fatty acids and half the net carbohydrates of standard rolls; sugar-free, zero-net-carb whipped toppings; real-fruit smoothies, which are fat-free, cholesterol-free, heart-healthy and lactose-free; sugar-free cookies; and even a no-sugar-added reduced-fat cheesecake. The latest to enter the line is Rich Life Pizza Crust.

The culinary touch means more than an inspired sprinkle of spice. Chefs must understand how an oven really works, true handling and operation practices in a kitchen and realistic freezer and refrigeration temperatures. They also understand the kitchen equipment a foodservice operator is likely to have.

Culinarians added a sweet touch to the Cinn-Sational Gourmet Cinnamon Roll, another recent Rich winner. “We went to the CIA [Culinary Institute of America] in Hyde Park, N.Y., and asked about the ultimate cinnamon roll taste,” recalls Barth. “In the chef’s world, you find surprising combinations of ingredients that release great flavor, so we also asked, ‘How do you keep that cinnamon flavor in?’ ”

Great taste with no goofs was the aim of Rich’s Exact Bake, a breakthrough line of no-proof bakery products for in-store bakers. This patent-pending product simplifies preparation, reducing steps and the likelihood of mistakes. The company claims new bakers can be trained “in 60 percent less time than with proof-and-bake dough and in comparable time to par-baked product.”

The chefs at Rich’s fine-tuned flavor and texture profiles on Niagara Farms topping, a pre-whipped dairy blend. It departs from Rich Products’ long history of producing non-dairy alternatives. “It has all the taste and mouthfeel of a dairy product but the stability of a non-dairy product,” says Barth.

 
Bahama Blast frozen cocktail mixes and smoothie concentrates won Rich Products a Best of Class Award this year from the Culinary Institute of America.
On the beverage side, Rich’s Bahama Blast line of frozen cocktail mixes and smoothie concentrates received the 2004 American Culinary Institute Best of Class Award in the foodservice frozen beverage category. Rich research also heard Dunkin’ Donuts’ clamor for a more healthful muffin and came through this past season with a trans fat-free muffin. It quickly boosted the chain’s sales. “What’s more, it’s a better muffin,” adds Dave Konst, vice president of R&D.

Harnessing Fortune

“You have to be a fighter – and you have to be lucky!” reflects Bob Sr. on the underpinnings of his success. “Four or five times in our history, if a decision had gone the other way, Rich Products would have been out of business.” Rich traces his love of competition to his years as an athlete, grappling with opponents on the wrestling mat or knocking heads on the gridiron.

He fought a seemingly endless string of lawsuits in 41 states to keep his soybean-based Coffee-Rich frozen non-dairy coffee creamer on the market. The dairy industry invoked a federal law stating that “no person shall sell or manufacture any product in semblance or imitation of milk or cream.” He and his legal team argued the semantics of “cream” and “creamer,” charging the industry had no exclusive claim to the term. He also disclaimed any attempt at “imitation” at all, calling his product a “replacement.”

“We got a 3-3 decision at the Superior Court in Wisconsin,” recalls Rich of the most significant and memorable of the court decisions. “One of the judges had a conflict of interest. He was the one who filed the initial suit against us. He had to dismiss himself from the case. So the vote stood 3-3. It was then that I discovered that the courts operated like baseball: The tie goes to the runner. By beating these laws we did one hell of a service for the margarine industry, too,” he notes.

Luck surfaced on other occasions. As a War Foods Administrator in the 1940s, Rich visited a New York customer to display a new non-dairy whipped topping made from soybean. The liquid product inadvertently froze. “We cut the frozen topping into pieces, and it whipped to perfection,” raves Rich. A breakthrough product, Rich’s Whipped Topping, was born.

At times, brainstorms showered a virtual embarrassment of riches upon the firm. In a turnabout of the frozen topping surprise, Rich’s now famous all-natural “Freeze Flo” technology came into being. The head of the R&D lab pulled a test batch of a soy-based whipped topping from the freezer only to find that the topping was still soft. In typical fashion, the elder Rich turned the accident into a milestone event. Freeze Flo technology, still licensed by the company, keeps interior fillings soft with freezer-stored product. It is used today in éclairs and ice cream.

Seeing in 3-D

Since those early brushes with good fortune, the company almost makes a science of harnessing luck. It begins with fostering innovation. A “3-D vision” the younger Bob Rich identifies in the company-wide initiative, Mission World Class, is “to lead the way to DREAM, DEVELOP, and DELIVER tomorrow’s food innovations today. If company history teaches anything, it’s that good ideas are everywhere. Vision, focus and persistence, however, bring them to fruition.”

Such an eye for development hearkens back to Bob Sr.’s knack for letting no idea with star potential slip through the cracks. Mindy Rich, vice president of innovation and wife of president and CEO Bob Rich Jr., has been a prime mover in formalizing the company’s culture of innovation.

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