R&D / R&D Teams of the Year

2016 R&D Team of the Year: Tasty Bite

This Indian and American R&D team draws inspiration from around the world, especially Asia.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

"Real Bold. Real Food." That’s the mantra at Tasty Bite (www.tastybite.com), Stamford Conn., and it's symbolic of what consumers want from food & beverage processors today. While other food manufacturers have been reformulating products to be more healthy, authentic and wholesome, the Tasty Bite Research Center (TBRC) has been doing this all along, nestled in an organic farm and sprawling production factory hub near the city of Pune in western India.

Launched in 1995, the brand started with five pouched Indian entrées. More than 20 years later, there are 30-plus Indian, Asian, Thai and rice and noodle products available across the U.S. at stores such as Walmart, Target, Meijer and Whole Foods. They're ready to eat after just a minute or two in a microwave.

From the beginning, the company wanted to make it easy for Western cooks to serve dishes such as Thai Vegetable Peanut, Pad Thai, Madras Lentils and Thai Lime Rice without the hassle of purchasing the many ingredients those traditional dishes involve and then preparing them. Some of its newest entrees are Thai Cashew Curry, Thai Vegetable Peanut and Thai Bangkok Vegetable.

The entrees, rice, pulse and noodle dishes include vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free ingredients. To the R&D team, variety is the spice of business. Tasty Bite relies on at least 75 types of vegetables, 75 spices, 42 grains and at least 10 dry fruits for its fully cooked products, which feature flavors such as cumin, toasted sesame, lemon grass, turmeric, curry, ginger and galangal, coconut, peanut, lime and many more.

While R&D is over in India, most of the strategy and direction emanate from Stamford, which is what Shashish Hodlur, head of R&D, likes to think of "as a compass that points us in the direction in which we need to move to achieve certain goals."

Executing these strategies is the team in India at the research center, which is accredited by India's Dept. of Science & Industrial Research. Hodlur handles the execution of ideas and strategies from the R&D team's eight "very talented and driven people who are either chefs or food scientists," he says. "We work closely with production, engineering and supply teams, and our location ensures each of us has a hands-on knowledge of manufacturing."

Structured as a dual stream that includes both culinary science and food technology, the TBRC was conceived by company cofounder, Meera Vasudevan, who also heads global marketing efforts. The center's 23-acre in-house farm grows some of the ingredients for production and is used as a demonstration site to teach area farmers best practices in organic and sustainable farming. "What we create is driven by art and powered by science," Hodlur says.

Retort technology

These food technologists and culinologists work in a state-of-the-art development kitchen and analytical science lab using pilot equipment and three different technologies under one roof, including thermal processing, freezing and the emulsion of sauces. The production facility also strives to protect the environment. About 80 percent of the energy consumed comes from renewable sources. Sugarcane waste, widely available in the region, is the primary source. The farm makes the most of rainwater harvesting techniques to recharge the groundwater in the area, which is important, Hodlur mentions, considering the rapid depletion of groundwater in many parts of India and the world.

After slow-cooking the many grains, vegetables, pulses, noodles and myriad of globally sourced spices in large-scale kettles, the food is automatically filled into multilayer bisphenol-A-free pouches that are then sealed and retorted to maintain freshness for a shelf life of more than 18 months. The proprietary processes use no artificial flavors, additives or preservatives and retain a high amount of the food’s original aroma, texture, nutrients and flavor.

"The consumer’s health and wellness is a priority," he emphasizes. "We don’t put anything in the products we wouldn’t put in our mouths, so we have an aversion to chemicals, additives and preservatives."

Tasty Bite is one of the first companies to launch shelf-stable pouches of vegetarian products in the U.S. in this format, he notes. "We were also pioneers in retorting rice. One of our key goals is consumer-centric innovation, backed by our understanding and ability to tap into societal mega trends. The scope of our innovations isn't limited to products alone, but to processes and ingredients. The work could be about any type of innovation, triggered from any part of the world."

Several new projects are in the works, he concludes, in new categories that will deliver great taste, good value and real convenience.