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Product Development Stories from Sargento Chef

May 22, 2006
Sargento chef Guy Beardsmore discusses new product development in foodservice and recounts a few of his hits ... and some misses.

Last year, Guy Beardsmore left a successful position as senior development chef for Dunstable, England-based Whitbread PLC Restaurants, the UK's leading hospitality company. Responsible for leading a cross-functional team of chefs in food innovation and development to the launch of 23 core menus, he decided to trade in his Union Jack for the Stars and Stripes and a new opportunity.

His current address is One Persnickety Place, Plymouth, Wis., home of Sargento Foods Inc. As Research and Development - Corporate Chef, he works across all company business categories - foodservice, food ingredients and consumer products - adding international flavor to the kitchen and his British charm and leadership ability to the team.

Persnickety is a perfect descriptor of Chef Beardsmore and the company that lured him to the U.S. "I like to always start with gold standard products, which are made with fresh ingredients and stocks, and then use that as the benchmark to match or get as close as possible when developing menus and new products," he explains. "I also believe in working as part of a team. I am a firm believer in Culinology, the fusion of two disciplines - culinary art and food technology. I would not be successful if I did not have the help and support of the scientists and technologist here at Sargento.

Sargento's Guy Beardsmore believes in teamwork, innovation and keeping a close eye on cost and safety factors.

"When developing products for foodservice, you always have to think out of the box," he continues. "With each brand, you have to understand what the essence of the brand is, and what main concerns the brand has. This could be skill level or cost reduction, reducing the amount of lines or increasing consistency.

"All major brands are looking for differentiation. You cannot show a product to Applebee's and then show the same one to Chili's. It's all about being first to market with great and innovative products. So for each food showing you need to think of new ideas."

Beardsmore says the retail market requires that the products are as foolproof as possible. "The consumer does not always follow the instructions properly, so your product needs to be robust enough to take abuse and still taste great and perform as needed," he explains. "With foodservice, the development time could be as short as a day, whereas in retail you are typically given much longer timelines."

Beardsmore describes his cooking style as classical with a twist. "I always start with the right culinary techniques, but may add a new ingredient or two." Classically trained at Hinckley College of Further Education in Leicestershire, England, he worked in various restaurants in the UK, including Harwell House (1 Star Michelin).

His first American stint was as sous chef at Trio, the innovative four-star fusion restaurant of French, Italian and Asian cuisine, in Evanston, Ill. He then joined Brasserie T in Chicago, and later served as executive chef for Darden Restaurants Inc., Orlando, Fla. There he helped drive new concepts and products for the Olive Garden, Darden's 478-site casual Italian dining chain. His next challenge was back in the UK, where he was executive chef in strategic food development for Allied Domecq Retailing PLC in Staffordshire, England. For the past five years he headed up the food development team for Whitbread PLC, whose brands include TGI Friday's, Pizza Hut, Beefeater and Costa coffee, to name a few.

From kitchen to mass market

There are many challenges in bringing a food product from the kitchen to the mass market, but the two most important are cost and safety, according to Beardsmore. "Cost can be the biggest challenge, as we are rarely given an indication of the cost structure needed," he says. "We send in the best product only to find that we may need to reduce the cost by 25 percent to 50 percent, but still keep the quality the same."

Safety is always a primary concern. "We need to understand how the product will be stored," he says. "Once the product is opened, the expected shelf life will determine how the product needs to be formulated. Once a product has been identified as needing to be stored ambient, the main concern is managing the levels of salt or acid in the product so they do not overwhelm the taste of the product."

Being a development chef can bring kudos or an occasional nay. "One of my biggest successes was bread stick pizza for the Olive Garden," says Beardsmore. "I developed a pizza dough that, when cooked, was brushed with butter and garlic salt to replicate the Olive Garden bread sticks. My Chicken Alfredo pizza is still on the menu. For years, the Olive Garden made fresh dough; I added value and upgraded all the pizza ingredients with the help of many key suppliers to make a consistent product."

One of Beardsmore's failures was chocolate soup. "I took the idea from the Spanish hot chocolate drink with churros; we served the dish with mini churros and strawberries," he says. "The customer - the true arbiter of successes and failures - did not get it, so I was left with about a year's supply of the soup."

Speaking of new products, we asked Beardsmore where he gets ideas for new items. "I have a very large collection of cookbooks, many dating from 1900-1950," he says. "I find these books are great to look at, and I find inspiration from long-forgotten dishes and methods of preparation. Also, I am very lucky with my job in that I get to travel all over the U.S. and dine in many great local and fine dining restaurants."

On the flavors/ingredients/cuisines trend watch, Beardsmore predicts Spanish/Basque will be big. "But mainly, the consumer will look for the best products in season and provenance, such as Door County cherries, Smithfield hams and Maine lobsters," he says. "Television chefs and local celebrity chefs are leading this trend by using more locally produced items, heirloom vegetables and rare breed cattle.

"Consumers are looking for that old-fashioned taste that they remember growing up, like Mum's apple pie in the fall, roast lamb in the spring and tomatoes on the vine in summer, not mass-produced produce which lacks flavor."

Beardsmore‘s Mum is an inspiration in his life. "I learned a lot from my mother who is a great cook," he says. "I have always had a great passion for cooking."


"I have been in menu development for more than eight years," says Beardsmore, "but for the past few months, I have been doing product development. The biggest challenge for me has been making the move from developing a range of products through the development chefs and technologists, to being the one who has to do the developing from a gold standard product. Then I work with the rest of the team to get the product to bench to pilot plant and finally to launch.

"One of the first products I worked on is [Sargento's] range of Chef Style Sauces. The main challenge was getting the products from pot to pilot plant. I find that what may seem fairly straightforward on the stove top does not always translate well to a pilot plant or commercial scale.

"Due to safety and process hurdles, products are subjected to severe heat parameters, and the mechanical action of pumping products through various pieces of equipment adds a whole new dimension to the technical challenges of reproducing a product similar to the gold standard.

"I work closely with the technologist/scientists to make sure we are developing products that are as natural tasting as possible. The key at this point is Culinology. Having the opportunity to have a chef working side-by-side with a scientist, in my mind, allows us to resolve these technical issues and have the best execution possible.

"I've also found it important to work closely with suppliers to identify flavors and seasonings that deliver ‘chef quality' on a commercial scale. Many suppliers of ingredients have a corporate chef on staff as well, which has helped me communicate more effectively in designing or identifying the ingredient functionality needed. By merging the chef with the scientist on a project, we've been able to resolve technical issues in the Chef Style Sauce project."

Top of His Toque

FP: What is your personal formula, vision on food and lifestyle?

GB: Surround yourself with great friends, who enjoy great food and wine, and stay long enough to help with the dishes. Sleep late on the weekends.

FP: Could you describe your typical day?

GB: No, every day is different. That's what makes my job so interesting.

FP: What ingredients do you always keep in your refrigerator?

GB: Parmesan cheese, basil, butter, lemons, chicken and veal glacé.

FP: If you couldn't be a chef, what would you do for a living?

GB: I'd be a pop star. I just need to learn how to sing and dance and get some plastic surgery. I really cannot think of anything I would enjoy more than working with food.

FP: What are some of your favorite foods (when others are cooking for you)?

GB: Foie gras, duck confit, my mother's Sunday roast and my wife's pastry - anything with chocolate. She's a great pastry chef; she used to work at Trio with Gale Gand.

FP: What do you do in your spare time?

GB: Play golf, pursue photography, read and spend time with my family.

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