2013 R&D Team Winner: International Food Network

The winner of our small R&D Team award is a contract product development team helping food manufacturers from idea generation through commercialization.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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Our winning R&D team in the smallest category has no products to its own name. While it's a very small company, it has helped some of the world's largest companies launch such products as Ultra Slim-Fast, Haagen-Dazs and Benecol.

International Food Network is a contract product development team for the food, beverage and nutrition industries. It provides as much or as little assistance as you need, from initial idea generation through commercialization. IFN was started in 1987 by Peter Salmon, a certified food scientist (and MBA) who worked for both General Foods and General Mills.

"With hands-on skills from a wide variety of areas, IFN is prepared and capable of entering a project at any stage in the development cycle — from concept design to manufacturing site selection," its marketing materials say. "With our significant internal and external resources we can move forward quickly and economically, reducing time-to-market cycles that allow you to take advantage of sales opportunities and improve market positions. We make the most of what already exists within your organization or supplier network, involving ourselves where we can add real value to your success."

"We're a bunch of food scientists, primarily formulators," Salmon says. "When a client comes to us, we explore whatever areas they want to explore. Then we break the product development process into discrete phases," and decide who does what parts.{sidbear1}

Salmon started the company in Ithaca, N.Y., to be close to the Cornell University food pilot plant and not too far from his former General Foods office in Tarrytown. He eventually opened an office in the UK to support a client launching there, and more recently located a lab in Naples, Fla., also to support a client.

We're a bunch of food scientists, primarily formulators. When a client comes to us, we explore whatever areas they want to explore. Then we break the product development process into discrete phases.

– Peter Salmon, Founder

Salmon uses the term "protocepting" to describe much of what IFN does. But that's only the front-end work, often the sexiest stuff. "Other firms focus only on the front end -- we certainly to that too. But we can do it all for a food processor – prototypes, scale-up, process specifications, HACCP (hazard and critical control points) analysis, shelf life testing, even overseeing final commercialization."

Slim-Fast was one of his earliest clients. "We helped develop the Ultra Slim-Fast line of shake mixes, and we were involved in supporting manufacturing operations in contract manufacturing facilities around the U.S. Later we began to extend the brand into other forms, for meal replacements as well as snacks. Then IFN supported Slim-Fast's expansion into the United Kingdom in 1990.

IFN helped out Haagen-Dazs when it was an independent up-and-coming company, and was retained by subsequent Haagen-Dazs owners Pillsbury/Diageo and General Mills. "We usually had at least one person working in their labs there at all times, while the rest of the work was being done in Ithaca," Salmon recalls of Haagen-Dazs' early days. "We supported them when they relocated their offices to Minneapolis and for that year we carried most of their R&D out of Ithaca. After Minneapolis was up and running smoothly, our role transitioned to supporting their international business, again mostly new flavor development. Altogether, we worked 10 years with the Haagen-Dazs brand."

In the late 1990s, McNeil Nutritionals came to IFN looking to expand its food business, which at the time consisted only of Lactaid milk. "We did a lot of foundational research and found the Benecol technology at the University of Helsinki," says Salmon. The plant stanol-based technology looked adaptable to spreads so, through a license from the university and development help from IFN, McNeil launched the world's first cholesterol-lowering margarine.

It was groundbreaking and exciting news at the time and received one of the earliest FDA-certified health claims. The technology was applied to salad dressings, bars and yogurts. For whatever reasons, the brand faded in the U.S., although it still exists in Europe.

IFN also does some applied research. It has created a stomach model, which models the digestive process so clients can see how ingredients or products are digested, when bioactives are absorbed, when encapsulated ingredients are released.

The Ithaca office (run by Ed Collins and Scott Martling) has 30 technical people. Ten more are in the UK (headed by Rick Henson), and eight are in Naples (supervised by Brett Ceulvels, who started that lab). All those numbers are people dedicated to product development; they don't include nontechnical support employees. Almost all have food science degrees, most of them with master's or doctorate degrees, and four have culinary arts degrees.

"It's a fantastic team with a fundamentally optimistic outlook," Salmon says. "Most of our people have been with us a long time. Most of the time, we have to operate in secrecy because of confidentiality agreements. I'm glad we can recognize their work with this award."

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