At this year’s Research Chefs Association Conference in Dallas, Texas, I had the pleasure of attending a panel session entitled “Product Development: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”
One of the interesting points that came out of the seminar was a discussion about turnaround times for new product development. It was the consensus of the chefs and food developers on the panel and in the audience – many of whom represented mid- to large-scale food manufacturers, suppliers and foodservice chains – that there is now tremendous pressure put on R&D to develop products with increasingly short turnaround times, driven by the company’s need to be first to market or to capitalize on new trends. Some commentators even said that whereas they previously would have been given several weeks to perfect a product, they’re now having to push something marketable out the door in just two to three days.
While this makes it challenging to create a gold standard product in a relatively short period of time, chefs raised more urgent concerns about their ability to act with due diligence in terms of food safety and uncovering any potential problems – including issues that may ultimately affect the company’s reputation or finances. All agreed that in these cases, these ethical and business concerns must be raised with marketing, sales, legal and the executive level so that a decision can be made that is in the best interest of the company and its customers.
Still, the panel acknowledged that tight turnaround times are becoming unavoidable today, and offered R&D professionals ideas on how to better deal with the situation. Cultivating and maintaining good, honest relationships with suppliers will help move the process along when product development is challenging. Having several projects on the backburner will also help with tighter turnaround times or if potential problems arise with products under development. Finally, keeping clear lines of communication open between divisions of the company may also allow you to more fully discuss the R&D process with business leaders, and perhaps even take some of the pressure off the rush to market.