Flavor is the Name of the Product Development Game

Editor David Feder reminds us flavor is the name of the game.

By David Feder, Editor

There are still some behind-the-times food manufacturers who seem to have forgotten Rule No.1 of being in the food biz: It's about flavor, dang it.

There are any number of given reasons most of the hundreds of new food products released every year eventually fail. But whatever the reason cited, no food product has a chance of success if its taste is less than great. And when it gets down to it, if a food tastes anything less than great, it's not going to be able to compete with the crowd of competitors on the shelves.

I don't think anyone sets out - especially in view of the millions of dollars involved in a new product release - to make something that tastes bad. And one editor's subjective taste can't be used as an indictment of a corporation with the teams of experts it takes to create and launch a new food product.

Companies working on food product development would do well to check out Morningstar Farms' products. The firm has long since perfected the art of making exemplary, flavorful vegetarian meat analogs.

Still, in cases of failures, what is it that happens between the R&D team, the focus groups and the final products that proves the aforementioned experts so very wrong?

A couple of examples come to mind. One company - a multibillion dollar international entertainment company -licensed its name to a line of kid foods to tie in with its main product line.

I participated in a tasting of these items alongside a dozen other food professionals. We were left shaking our heads. Not a one of us liked a single sample in the product line, and most of us were outright appalled. What was most disturbing is that the product was simple enough, and examples abound for doing it well.

What a difference this "multimegacorp" could have made had it bothered to taste the food its name was being associated with. If this company was so willing to compete in the cutthroat world of food, you would think someone would have thought to do a little homework beyond the boardroom. They would have had their name on a far better product, still made big profits and everyone could have gone away happy - especially the kids.

It's hard to think the driving sentiment wasn't that kids can't tell the difference and adults don't care. We on the taste panel felt the overall goal was to do nothing more exerting than slap the picture of their corporate mascot on a box of the absolute cheapest available generic to impel the kids to drive the purchase.

Another product that exemplifies how terribly wrongheaded a self-blinkered company can be is a vegetarian "burger" patty launched by a different multibillion dollar company - a well-established food company, this time. It was impossible to believe the new veggie burger had been tasted by a single person involved in its development, processing or production. This meat analog was so completely unredeemable on all points - taste, appearance, texture, aroma - my greedy and undiscriminating dog took one sniff and walked away. Not even a curious nibble. The item is no longer on the market.

Morningstar Farms broke the code for making exemplary vegetarian meat analogs years ago. Their products taste so much like the real thing every vegetarian I introduce them to does a label "double-take," scrutinizing the package multiple times to reassure themselves, "No, there really isn't any meat in this." Did the aforementioned company R&D team that failed so dismally even bother to try a Morningstar Farms veggie burger? Were they really so prideful they felt they had nothing to learn from a competitor with such a solid track record?

There are two lessons that research chefs, R&D folks and food processors in general should take from this. First, pride goeth before a fall. Your competitors are not less informed than you just because they make something you don't. If you want to "beat them at their own game," you must study all their moves before stepping onto the playing field.

The second lesson developers of new foods must either learn, or remember if they've become so top-heavy they've unlearned it, is to TASTE THE FOOD!

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