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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Among her inspirations has been an Innovation Fair. At the biannual event, business divisions, operating groups and processing plants showcase successful ideas and give other ideas a chance to gather momentum and support. Culinary/sales teams find the seeds of new product innovation from customers, headlines and market sources. “Innovation is not just about products but processes, too,” says Barth. “We’re an organization that gets an idea and makes it happen.”

“My job is to deliver as much luck as I can,” laughs Konst, hearkening back to the founder’s favorite theme. “The challenge is to find out what projects have the best chance of working, (and) to know what we’re getting into before we make a commitment,” he says. “I prioritize, give the go/no-go to projects.”

The Rich Mission emphasizes working smarter and “doing the right things” as well as thinking outside the box. Cross-functional teams and the Stagegate process help screen the flood of ideas, narrowing the field of focus to concepts with the best chance of success and highest return potential. Leadership competencies include knowing value drivers, with emphasis on profit and growth potential, and effective strategic planning.

And it seems that the right things just continue to happen at Rich Products as new products continue to flourish. The company will pass $2 billion in sales this year, not bad for a family-owned business. It’s a testament to an organization that has always placed a premium on quality and innovation. And a little luck!

Chef with the magic touch

Add a chef’s touch to the customer menu, knowledge of the kitchen and just a pinch of legerdemain, and you have all the ingredients for remarkable success with the world’s leading food chains. “I look at a blank plate, and it is like a canvas for me,” says Michael Joseph, certified executive chef and national accounts culinary manager for Rich Products.

"We are the eyes and ears of our customers," says Chef Michael Joseph.
This is his 17th year with the Buffalo, N.Y.-based food processor. His penchant for creative menu ideas and food artistry have found the perfect home in Rich Products’ culture of innovation.

You would expect to find a prominent chef like Joseph as a high-profile member of Rich Products’ vaunted research and development team. But none of the 15 chefs on staff fills R&D positions. Not formally, at least. Still, their link to Rich product development is critical. Joseph supports three national account managers, supporting culinary and menu development with such top multi-unit chains as Bob Evans, Perkins, Hard Rock Café, Burger King, Fazoli’s and Aramark foodservice.

“I support the customer as well as the corporation and the division,” he explains. “I kick-start ideas…new menu options for them to make sure that they are on trend with the industry.” Back in Buffalo, he may collaborate with Rich’s R&D team to customize product to specific needs whether of taste, style, or mode of preparation.

“We can also look at a product from a handling standpoint. Labor is a big issue,” says Joseph. “Or suggest a type of package. Or adjust to equipment. Every operation has different styles of equipment and different conditions. We can touch all the bases. We are the eyes and ears of our customers. We can advise them what to use or how to modify the product (or equipment) so that it might work better.”

Rich Products, in fact, operates culinary schools in the Buffalo home base and in Fresno, Calif. “We are in a relationship-building industry,” says Joseph. “It isn’t the product alone that we sell; it’s the support, too. We have quality product. But you need a quality support staff to enable the customer to use that product to the fullest.”

The Research Chefs Assn. honored Robert Rich Sr., company founder and chairman of the board, this past spring with its Pioneer Award, in large part for his successful use of culinologists in his organization. “We’ve used chefs for the last 20 years,” says Rich, who demonstrated a genius for utilizing food talent in his organization for nearly 60 years.

Tapping the training and effectiveness of chefs so successfully has been a simple exercise in facilitating communications. No one is better equipped with product knowledge, or is in a better position to understand the nuances of particular equipment and preparation steps, than the chef. The chef is the conduit for the two-way flow of information.

But Joseph may have a step up on even other chefs when it comes to communications. Joseph is also a magician, and he brings those skills of legerdemain and illusion to the table, entertaining as he informs. “I’m lucky to have a job where I can incorporate the two things I love — the food industry and magic,” says Joseph. “Magic is a great learning tool. You have to capture someone’s attention in the first five minutes when you are working with them. You need more than the product. You need to be informative — and fun!”

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