Innovate with consistency in mind

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Food is evolving at a rapid pace with the help of research and development.  Nowadays, food conceptualization and preparation can be taken to the molecular level. Success in the food service business is about profitability, product, process, and people. With regard to product development, the devil is in the details.

What does product development mean to the food service business? I believe food product development is a science and therefore warrants the scientific method. Here are some tips on how restaurateurs can approach product and menu development in a scientific manner. 

Precision is everything

Customers are quick to notice inconsistency in the quality of products and services. The hospitality business thrives on customer reviews, and a slight dip in consistency can create a negative impact on a restaurant brand. The only way to achieve consistency is to understand ingredients and their various combinations. Take Pizza and Mozzarella for example; both the dish and cheese have global appeal. Despite this, the dish needs to be modified across the world to suit customer tastes. For a restaurateur to get the desired amount of burnt spots, the right fat percentage, and the right blend of cheese on a pizza, the product and it ingredients should be well defined in order reproduce it with consistency. If a restaurant wants to offer its customers pizza with Mozzarella that has a certain elasticity and colour, it should be able to maintain that consistency in composition and flavour in every pizza that is delivered. 

There’s always room for improvement

Product innovation in F&B is as crucial as that in any other industry and it should never stop. There’s always room for improvement. Innovation is not adding more SKUs but using existing SKUs to customize products and create a variety of new products. This applies to start-ups as well as global brands.

I worked with Tim Hortons to introduce a sandwich concept called ‘Wrap-a-licious’ in the UAE. Tim Hortons which wanted to expand its range beyond just snacks and coffee, decided to offer wraps targeted at lunchtime visitors. The restaurant chain introduced six different flavours, each targeted at a particular nationality – Shish Tawook for Arabs, Tikka for Indians, Manchurian for Chinese, Peri Peri for South Africans, Adobo for Filipinos, and Mesquite for Westerners. The concept worked because the variety of flavours offered choice to the customer. Another example is Subway, which introduced Peri Peri chicken and found it to be widely popular that they are introducing it in several markets worldwide.

Customers like familiarity

Every customer is unique and should be allowed to decide the food experience he or she wants in a restaurant.  Customization not only provides variety to customers, but also allows restaurants to add value and charge a premium for that value. By all means, experiment, but also remember that people like to eat what they know and will prefer flavours they are familiar with. Focus on adapting flavours to suit customers of different nationalities.

Consider cheese flavours. Even with the global acceptance of Mozzarella, it’d be a mistake to assume that it can be sold off the shelf and appeal to diverse tastes. Indians would love Mozzarella with cheddar, whereas Arabs would prefer Mozzarella with Kashkaval, because they are familiar with those tastes and flavours. Taking customer familiarity into account will ensure that your new custom cheese blends and unique pizzas will find success. 

Clarity, passion, and people drive innovation

No business can survive without a vision. When business owners are not clear about what they want and when there’s a mismatch among their business models, profitability, and expectations, they end up becoming penny wise and pound foolish. This stifles creativity and the desire to innovate.

It’s equally important to understand customer sentiments attached to food and environment. The best example of passion for cooking is at home. A mother who cooks for a family is essentially creating tailor-made solutions. Customers who go out to eat want the same levels of commitment and passion for food preparation they have been used to at home.

Your passion can be made a reality only by the people working with you. Take care of them and get them involved in your vision and let them achieve it for you. Recognize their efforts and reward them for it.

Finally, not everybody is cut out to be an innovator. Accept your limitations and seek advice from experts. Restaurant owners tend to believe they know best and can often make unreasonable demands. It’s crucial to respect the advice of senior management, including restaurants and chefs, and involve them in the decision making process.

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Partner at Cartalyst Solutions and Aroma & Spice Catering & Retail Services

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