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Exploiting Master Artisans in Product Development
Countless numbers of apprentice cooks, bakers, painters, and sculptors have studied and toiled under the masters of their trade to comprehend the foundation of their crafts. This journey offered them a view of the necessary elements that separate true artisan mastery from the mere execution of the process. Similarly, food scientists in product development can source local master craftsmen (small-scale food processors) as a means of superior product development.
The concept of corporate chefs exploring the foods of master chefs and bakers to create innovative menu offerings is not new to the restaurant industry. Product-development chefs and food scientists have the same opportunity by exploring the products and techniques of local or regional master food producers. Often, these small-scale producers employ methods that are centuries old and deliver consistent high-quality products and flavors to their customers.
All too often, product development is conducted in a vacuum of “produceability”, cost constraints, inventory synchronization, and profitability. Ideas are generated from market research firms that inform us of the latest and greatest trends peeking over the horizon. Marketing departments and/or agencies create a romantic vision of what the product will deliver. Then they embellish these product ideals. All of these processes are by themselves important and crucial to success of many new products and their development, but product development specialists must hold these forces at bay until a true culinary benchmark can be established.
Most artisans produce a small line of products that they can execute flawlessly with a minimal amount of effort. Thus, they have refined their production process to equate to “simple is better.” Cost constraints are always a concern because most often artisans are using their own operating capital. Inventory synchronization is solved by using only the highest-quality ingredients necessary and treating them in the simplest ways to achieve a masterful end product. Profitability is derived from the time-honored tradition of charging “what the market will bear” for a product of this quality and craftsmanship. From the perspective illustrated, your product will now possess the strength and vision to exceed the customer expectations of the most romantic of marketing platforms.
The artisans’ approach also encourages defining and refining each of the components and processes involved in their product’s production to encourage excellence. To learn from this approach requires discipline. Food scientists must select the highest-quality, most-versatile ingredients that their product can afford. Just as a chef examines an ingredient’s options for his or her menu or kitchen, the food scientist needs to create a long-term vision for each ingredient. Taking the time to ideate the future of the ingredient in multiple new product variations will help to increase the cost efficiency of adding a new inventory item. This long-term vision will also help keep the hopper full of new potential products for development.
After practicing the art of critical ingredient review, food scientists can turn their eyes toward the area of process development and strategy. A review of the culinary processes needed to successfully achieve the flavors, colors, and textures desired in a product is crucial. Once this assessment has been made, the next task is a review of the equipment necessary to execute these culinary techniques. During this process assessment, food scientists should ideate a multitude of new product variations that could result from this culinary process or piece of equipment.
From the exploration of ingredients and processes, the food scientist can begin to develop a master’s approach toward a product business plan. From this preliminary request for a single product’s development, the food scientist can assemble a comprehensive vision for long-term product development and growth. This multi-faceted approach to product development allows food scientists to build on their inventory of product and process knowledge. It also enables them to apply these principles to all future development.
By employing this “Master’s Perspective” toward your product development, you will begin to develop a much more powerful foundation to ideate and produce truly innovative products. These principles also provide you with an educational platform from which to critically evaluate and refine your ingredients, processes, and products to ensure their success and versatility.
by JAMES T. MURRAY
Division Executive Chef