2014 R&D Teams of the Year: Two Different Views of R&D

Hearthside Foods thinks it's all business; Angie's Boomchickapop is still having fun.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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When most of our readers think of R&D or product development, they think purely about food scientists in white coats toiling in sterile labs.

See the profiles for the 2014 R&D Teams of the Year:

That's not the case for either of this year's winners of our R&D Teams of the Year voting. As a contract manufacturer, Hearthside Foods and its product developers spend as much time in customer labs as they do in their own. And their unique form of R&D extends beyond the creation (or, for them, acceptance) of a prototype to include manufacturing, packaging and even associated business processes.

And the team at Angie's Boomchickapop still seems to have as much fun making popcorn as an established company as it did when Angie and Dan Bastian and their kids were popping corn at outdoor fairs and even Minnesota Vikings training camp.

This is our sixth annual feature on R&D Teams of the Year, and the process remains the same. Early this year, we asked you in print and on our website to nominate the best R&D teams you know in small and large categories. Out of a dozen or so nominees, we whittled the list down to four.

Facing off against Hearthside in the large category was Jack Link's Beef Jerky. Competing with Angie's was Mamma Chia. Both have great R&D teams and are worthy of mention. Here are their nominating essays:

Jack Link’s Beef Jerky, a family-owned company, is the No. 1 U.S. meat snack brand and is the largest snack brand in c-store. In each of the last two years, investment in research and development has increased by over 40 percent. They’ve added culinary and process engineering team members to improve their speed in developing products targeted toward new consumers. In addition, Jack Link’s R&D has added a new 10,000-sq.-ft. research center for the development of exciting, long-range innovations. Collectively, these factors have helped drive new product innovation, with Jack Link’s launching 200 new items a year, produced in nine facilities. Jack Link’s understands innovation is vital to company success and new products launched in the past three years account for over 30 percent of annual sales.

Creator of the first-to-market chia seed beverage, Mamma Chia, launched an entirely new food category that is expected to hit $1.1 billion by 2020. To continue as the chia category leader, Mamma Chia researches new, delicious ways to bring chia to active souls of all ages. Although we monitor food trends, our best ideas come from our Mamma Chia community. In 2013, we launched the organic Chia Squeeze vitality snack. Chia seeds are paired with fruits and vegetables in a shelf-stable, lightweight pouch, allowing active souls of all ages to enjoy Mamma Chia anytime, anywhere – a key feature since our fans are physically active. In 2014, we introduced organic chia seeds, and will be launching two new beverage flavors– both initiatives inspired by customer feedback.

Those essays (and those of the eventual winners) were posted on our web site. In March and April, we asked you to vote, with the winners of that popular vote taking the honors. Apparently, innovation is valued by many of you, because 1,537 votes were cast.

Thanks to the 1,537 of you who voted. And if you feel bad that your company and your team was not among this year's contestants, it’s not too early to drop us a line for next year. Email Dave Fusaro.

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