Good Foods Remains Safe Under Pressure

Aug. 24, 2020
Good Foods' Katie Schmits and Danyel O'Connor talk about what makes their R&D Team successful, the technology behind their secret weapon—HPP—and how they’ve adapted during COVID-19.

Welcome to another episode of Food For Thought, a podcast where the Food Processing team takes you behind the scenes of the food and beverage industry. This week, I sat down with the second of our three R&D Team Winners for 2020: Good Foods. Listen in as Katie Schmits. director of innovation on the R&D team at Good Foods; Danyel O'Connor, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Good Foods, and I talk about what makes their R&D Team successful, the technology behind their secret weapon—HPP—and how they’ve adapted during COVID-19.


Erin: Danyel and Katie, welcome to the "Food for Thought" podcast.

Katie: Thank you.

Danyel: Hi, happy to be here.

Erin: Congratulations on being named one of Food Processing's 2020 R&D Teams of the Year. Tell me what sets the R&D team at Good Foods apart from most other companies.

Katie: You know, what makes Good Foods R&D team so successful and I think sets us apart is really the talented group of people that we have on staff, their ability to leverage each other's diverse backgrounds, and really pivot off of each other's strengths. Good Foods as a business, we have a very entrepreneurial spirit, a focus on culinary expertise and attention to detail. We resource a lot of fantastic clean ingredients. And then our team uses a lot of creativity, expertise, intuition and gumption, if you will, to create fantastic finished products for us to market under the Good Foods brand.

Erin: One of the most notable aspects about Good Foods products are that they're done using high pressure processing or HPP. For anyone listening that might not be familiar with HPP, can one of you elaborate on what it is and how it's used?

Katie: So, HPP is a really cool technology. It's basically the application of 87,000 pounds or PSI of cold water pressure to a packaged product. So, we batch and package our products and then the product goes through HPP, which provides the microbial reduction that's required to ensure food safety. Eighty-seven thousand PSI is about six times the pressure of the deepest point of the Pacific Ocean. So, a little fun fact. And then contrary to thermal processes, HPP really enables the use of fresh ingredients while preserving flavor, texture, nutrition, and also provides shelf life extension without the use of preservatives. And at Good Foods, we do all of our batching, packaging, and HPP processing in-house, and we maintain the cold chain throughout. So, we really have full control of the process from ingredient sourcing through shipping, and we're able to ensure that our products reach consumers as fresh as possible.

Erin: That is key for sure. Can you walk me through what product development looks like at Good Foods? Where do your ideas come from?

Katie: We get our ideas from a lot of sources. So, we do a lot of traditional internal informal and formal brainstorming between the R&D and sales and marketing teams, as well as our other cross-functional partners. We rely on trend data that we see in the marketplace. And a lot of times we get ideas from our customers as well. So, we have some really great longstanding customer relationships, and they may have ideas of products or new platforms that they're interested in bringing into their stores. So, we take all those ideas into consideration as we think about new products that really fit with the Good Foods brand and with our capabilities, and also really could benefit or be compatible with HPP technology. So, once we have an idea for a new product that we would like to develop, we really start in the kitchen. The team starts with a very culinary-focused approach and tries to create a product like you would do so at home in your own kitchen. But then our team works really closely with our quality assurance department and our operations team, as well as our procurement team to source the ingredients and make sure we can scale up those products in the plants efficiently and safely. So, again, very culinary start and then ensuring that we can scale up.

Erin: Dipping into what I'm sure has become everyone's favorite 2020 topic. How have things changed for your R&D team because of COVID-19?

Katie: We've definitely had to pivot a little bit, especially just with schedules, kind of staggering schedules and staying really in tune with what work needs to be done, and who's going to be where and how can we continue moving things forward, despite some of the hurdles and challenges with COVID. It has definitely resulted in a few mega tasting days in the kitchen where we might taste the products of week's worth of developments and make decisions and provide feedback to drive the next round of development. We've definitely moved to more kind of teams interfacing and phone calls and stuff like that. But I would say it hasn't really stifled our development too significantly. I think from a company perspective also, COVID has driven us to connect with consumers even more via our social media channels as well as accelerate the launch of our eCommerce platform to help increase brand awareness and make our products even more accessible to consumers. So, we've kind of leveraged this time of being a little more removed physically and trying to connect via some of these other avenues or technologies that are available to us.

Danyel: Yeah. I would say our, you know, our greatest hurdle while trying to maintain the success of Good Foods would be working with our vendor partners on raw materials or plant trials and staffing and scheduling from that standpoint would be our biggest hurdle or maybe change to everyday operation during COVID time. But definitely mirror Katie's comments regarding our kind of revitalized focused with the consumer and really learning how they shop, what they're looking for, and how we can better serve them and using this time to the best of our ability to drive future innovation.

Erin: Did you have any sourcing or labor concerns related to the virus?

Danyel: We have been very fortunate and I think used a lot of foresight in preparation for COVID-19. We developed a continuation of operations plan in February before COVID, you know, really was experienced at a high-level in the United States. So, we had some plans in place that helped us maintain operations. There was a brief period in time about two weeks where we did out of an abundance of caution, closed the facility in Pleasant Prairie to kind of reset, allow people to maintain their health and well-being and adjust to shifting demand during COVID. Aside from that, some minor delays or extended lead times on raw materials, but nothing that our team hasn't been able to overcome as far as challenges go.

Erin: In the August article, Katie, you spoke about having a small team that works really well together. Can you tell me more about what makes the group work so well together?

Katie: Danyel highlighted this a little bit when talking about what sets our team apart, but I really feel that are kind of varied and diverse backgrounds enable us to provide our own unique expertise in certain areas as well as informed kind of points of view and support in other areas without necessarily stepping on each other's toes. So, we all have something different to bring to the table. We have a team of folks with culinary backgrounds, food science backgrounds, microbiology food processing. So, we all bring different skillsets to the table. We have an understanding of what each person or where each person's strength lies, and we leverage each other's strengths, but are always open to kind of feedback from within our team. And we really respect the skills and input that each person brings to the table.

We're also always really learning from each other. And generally within the R&D team and across Good Foods, we really have a shared mission of providing simple, safe, delicious products for consumers everywhere. The whole team is really passionate around this and it's what brings us to work every day. So, I really think that that shared mission bleeds throughout the company and enables us to work really well together towards our common goals.

Erin: Okay. Last question. And I swear, this is the most fun one. If I were to look into both of your refrigerators or pantries, what Good Foods product would I see the most of?

Katie: For me it's definitely our Plant Based Queso. That has been one of my favorite products that we've developed in my time at Good Foods. I'm also an avocado lover. So, our Avocado Salsa and a couple of our other avo-based products like our signature guacamole and our Avocado Goddess Dressing are a few of my favs that I always keep on hand.

Danyel: This is Danyel. I would have to say Good Foods products for me are kind of like music. It depends on my mood, what I'm interested in consuming or enjoying that given day. And I have a husband with a very large appetite and two boys at home. So, we are constantly consuming Good Foods products. Some of my favorites are actually the sneak peeks or previews. So, in development and launching soon, we have our Spicy Queso Blanco, plant-based dip. That is like, I mean, knuckle deep into that tub, delicious. We also have some new dressings that are coming into market in the new year. Plant-based and dairy-based, which are phenomenal. They are so fresh and so bright and vivid and make any salad or marinade amazing. And also, I mean, you can't go wrong with our guacamole, our avocado mash, or tomatillo salsa.

Erin: You're all making me hungry just thinking about it. Like thinking of guacamole right now, and it's lunch time in Chicago. So, whew. Well, thank you both.

Danyel: Yeah. We drop it like its guac in my house.

Erin: I love that. I'm also going to be using ‘knuckle deep’ way more often. Believe it or not, I hadn't actually heard that one. I don't know why or how, but I hadn't. So, thank you both for chatting with me today. And yes, thank you so much.

Danyel: Thank you so much for having us and for sharing the word about Good Foods and our fantastic R&D team.

Katie: Thanks, Erin.

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