Dan Coudreaut, a McDonald's chef, stands with Catherine Policella, The Bama Cos.' culinary innovation strategist and executive chef, at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 2005 at The Bama Cos.' Bama Benefit—a healthful, grain-based recipe contest. Policella and Coudreaut were two of the judges.
"By working together, culinary and food science discovered that the initial product showings are much more successful."
The Bama Cos. has won Pizza Hut's Innovator of the Year Award three years in a row. That's a pretty impressive streak, even more so when you consider the pizza chain's global reach and supplier list.
Needless to say, it is not an easy award to win. However, The Bama Cos.' innovative approach to product development has catapulted this bakery to the forefront, not only in the baking industry, but in the entire food industry.
In today's baking industry environment, stagnant sales and shrinking margins have caused many bakeries to scale back operations. Often times, the hammer falls on research and development, with this department taking on more quality assurance tasks or being eliminated entirely. In some bakeries, product development has moved from the bakery to suppliers and third party agencies.
At The Bama Cos., the opposite is happening. More attention is being paid to product development, and it is paying off. "Since 2000, up to 25% of our new business development is coming from new products," says Kelli Bruer, The Bama Cos.' marketing manager. "Part of our growth strategy has been new product development and innovation. We have made the effort to be more value-added to our customers and work up the food chain."
By working up the food chain, The Bama Cos. has taken a proactive approach to product development, guiding their customers' product development initiatives instead of following someone else's lead.
"A few years ago, we would get product development opportunities when someone else already had developed the target, or a customer already had decided on an item they wanted on the menu," says Sue Ellen Moore, The Bama Cos.' director of product development. "By getting involved up front, it helps us be more involved in the development process, and everyone is more successful that way."
The best of both worlds
The Bama Food Cos.' proactive product development approach works because of the company's product development team. Instead of employing only food technologists, Bama has built a diverse team of scientists and chefs.
About seven years ago, the company brought a culinary aspect to its product development team by hiring chefs. "Our goal was to bring more out-of-the-box thinking, and to know more about how texture, form and flavor worked together," Moore says.
Moore is the veteran and leader of the product development team. She has been with The Bama Cos. for more than 21 years, all of which have been spent in product development. She manages a team of 12, which comprises six food technologists, three chefs and three administration/technical support personnel.
Catherine Policella, The Bama Cos.' culinary innovation strategist and executive chef, runs the culinary side of the product development team, and has worked at The Bama Cos. for six years. Before joining the company, the Culinary Institute of America graduate worked in high-end catering, fine dining and as a personal chef.
The advantages of building a product development team staffed with food technologists and culinary chefs are innumerable. The melding of creativity and scientific know-how presents a strong case for combining these two groups into one strong team.
The advantages of this joint project is seen with Ideations. During an Ideation, members of the product development team cultivate innovative concepts to bring to customers. Besides developing products, the company also uses a graphic artist to create story-boards detailing product packaging and positioning. This allows customers to gain a better understanding of the product's potential.
"The scientists help the culinary team in taking the products that we design and making them more robust, commercially economical and freeze-thaw stable," Policella says. "Whereas we help the scientists with Ideations, designing new forms, flavor combinations and product presentations."
Ideations drive The Bama Cos.' product development team, and these internal brainstorming sessions showcase the benefits of a diverse product development team. "Some of the tools we use during Ideations, such as protocept drawings and concept blue prints, allow us to be more focused on our customers' needs because they can stop a product or tweak a project before we start making and testing the product," Policella says. "The old way was to make 50 samples and hopefully the customer would like something," Moore adds.
Once a customer provides feedback, the product development team brings the concepts to life through product showings. These samplings further testify to the benefits of a diverse product development group. While the culinary team works on their samples and presentations, the food technologists determine how to make the product freeze-thaw stable.
"By working together, culinary and food science discovered that the initial product showings are more successful," Moore says.
Fine dining approach
Besides their abilities to add flare to product showings, culinary chefs benefit product development by staying on top of the latest industry trends. Policella and her team accomplish this by keeping a close eye on fine dining. Although The Bama Cos. mainly participates in the quick service and casual foodservice categories, Policella says that almost all foodservice trends trickle down from fine dining.
As a result, Policella spends time on the road visiting fine dining establishments and building a network of contacts. This network paid off last year when the company hosted Bama Food Technics 2005, a two-day conference that brought together The Bama Cos.' product development team and suppliers, and executive chefs from fine dining establishments throughout the country. The conference acted as a science fair, complete with presentations and experiments. It also served as a team-building exercise and put the company's food technologists in the spotlight, a place normally reserved for chefs.
"Every supplier gave a basic science presentation, and then we worked in the lab to create the products that chefs were interested in," Moore says. "It was a great way to see what was going on in fine dining and to see what chefs were interested in."
Although food scientists and chefs often live in separate worlds, The Bama Cos. has found a way to build a product development team from these diverse groups, pulling the strengths from each group together into one formidable team.
"Scientists have great ideas and culinary has great ideas," Moore says. "And we have found a way to put these two groups together, and not only have everyone working in the same area, but also utilizing each other's strengths."
In 2004, The Bama Cos. was named a recipient of the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, marking the first time a bakery has been bestowed with this honor. In a five-part series of articles, Baking Management details various aspects of the bakery's operations, including strategic plans, research and development and Six Sigma.
This is the last installment of the series. For more information on The Bama Cos. and to read parts I, II, III and IV, go to www.bakery-net.com/bama.