Creating the Perfect Cookie

What happens when you challenge three radically different product development teams and methodologies - including a food industry "dream team" - to design a cookie?

By Mike Pehanich, Plant Operations Editor

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Cookie competitors included: the Oatmeal Pecan Cookie, made by the Open Source "Dream Team"; the Strawberry Cobbler Cookie, created by the Current Industry Practice Team; and the Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and Butter Toffee Crunch cookie, developed by the XP Team.

How many "wins" can you fit into a "win-win" situation?

That will be one of the questions answered when independent product developer Mattson and Co. tallies the results of Project Delta, an innovative experiment in collaborative product development. With 20 R&D people across the country from food processors and ingredient suppliers plus chefs working collaboratively but remotely, the project blended together continual consumer feedback with charity work to produce the best tasting cookie possible with "wholesome, sensible nutrition."

The "quest for the ultimate cookie" started with the idea of pooling the food industry's top minds and resources to create a superior healthy product "that mainstream Americans will want to eat," and then to share the results of that endeavor with the food industry.

Of course, the results that will most concern consumers are the "nutritionally improved" Oatmeal Pecan, Strawberry Cobbler and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and Butter Toffee Crunch cookies spawned by competing teams and expected soon to land on grocery market shelves. But the project also should engender substantial charitable contributions. Under the terms of the licensing agreement, one percent of all sales of the Project Delta products will help feed hungry Americans.

Project Delta is the brainchild of Steve Gundrum, president and CEO of Mattson and Co., located in the Silicon Valley town of Foster, Calif. The company calls itself "the largest independent developer of new products for the food and beverage industry." Mattson has a long list of successful product developments, including Starbucks' Frappuccino, Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice, Mrs. Fields' shelf-stable cookies and PowerBar Energy Bites. Mattson's 70-person staff works with Fortune 500 clients and occasionally start-ups, guiding products from concept to and through formulation, scale-up and distribution.

A new product development model

The business leg of Gundrum's threefold plan was to test and showcase innovation models with the hope of unveiling fresh strategies and team designs that would expedite new product development.

Steve Gundrum

"The food industry changes slowly," explains Gundrum, a self-proclaimed student of innovation techniques. "Face it. It has evolved out of the centuries-old process of cooking. New products develop more slowly in our industry compared to a lot of others. Here in the Silicon Valley, we're always looking for better, faster, smarter ways of bringing products to market."

And it was Silicon Valley's software leaders from whom Gundrum took his lead.

"For the past five years, I have been looking especially at productivity in the software industry," he says. "The productivity there is off the charts. In contrast, food innovation is very low."

Why start with a cookie? "It's a ubiquitous snack that millions of Americans eat every day," explains Gundrum, also noting that cookie sales have leveraged a lot of charitable dollars over the years.

To launch the "ultimate professional high-tech bake-off," three project teams received the same product brief. In addition to titillating the taste buds, the resulting products had to meet or exceed the following nutritional goals (based on the average content of existing products):
  • 15 percent lower fat;
  • 15 percent less sugar;
  • 15 percent higher protein.
"Our reasoning was that, in the American diet, if you improved nutrition by 15 percent, you could have a huge health impact," says Gundrum. (The final formulations also contained 2-3g of fiber each.)

Three competing teams

Project Delta built the first of its three project teams around Current Industry Practice. This was the traditional product development team headed by a single manager/director and comprised of trained talents in various disciplines, all Mattson employees. This would be the "benchmark process," to which the other two models would be compared.

Team Two was the "XP" team, short for Extreme Programming. With its origins in software development, XP is a low-risk, small-team approach known for developing new products on the fly. Rapid feedback and short cycle times characterize the approach. Each team member participates in every phase of the project.

"We adapted this model for the food industry," says Gundrum. "In the software industry, two programmers become a project team. They harmoniously work together. One programs, the other debugs. Then they flip-flop their roles. Their customer is their coach. When you have very talented people, this is a highly productive process."

A member of the "XP" team diligently applies himself to the cookie creation competition.

The XP team for Project Delta matched Dan Howell, a culinary expert, with Peter Dea, a food scientist who worked in confectionery before coming to Mattson. They used wireless tablet PCs and "other digital collaboration technologies" to generate their formulation.

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