There is no better time to begin teaching food product innovation principles to culinary students than while they are still in school. They're opened minded, adventuresome, thrive on competition and have the time to learn.
Students will listen to new ideas; they are not hindered by preconceived product development principles. All too often, college graduates enter the business world only to hear the words "We've tried that before" or "Developing a line extension represents a safer business risk" – as is often communicated by well-healed marketing managers. They may even hear the words "Your idea is too radical." But "radical innovation" is what I teach my students, not "incremental innovation."
Secondly, culinary students by their very nature are adventuresome to their cores. They are continually taught to be creative in developing new recipes or center-of-the-plate meals. When I walk past multiple culinary arts teaching classrooms on my way to teach a course in new product development, I see hundreds of students at Johnson and Wales every week excited about innovative food ideas.
Thirdly, the Research Chefs Association sponsors culinary school new product innovation competition by sponsoring a yearly competition. At Johnson and Wales we have already begun to prepare for the 2012 competition. This year, we had to turn away students wanting to participate in this event. I am sure other schools experience the same student interest.
Fourth, Johnson and Wales has carved out a significant time allocation to teach new food product development in the business world as a part of its Food Science program. I am privileged to teach this class on the Denver campus. This class enables students to develop a mutual product innovation strategy and bring it to life after six to eight weeks of practicing the new product innovation principles. Optimizing a new product through trial and error and then building a business plan that can be flawlessly presented to restaurant executives is an experience that will bear fruit throughout the lifetime of these students.
As a side note, I attended the Naturally Boulder annual awards dinner in Boulder three weeks ago. Prior to the dinner, local natural and organic food product and services companies provided a $26,000 prize for the new innovative product concept. Surprisingly, 24 small entrepreneurs made presentations for this prize, I pondered all evening, and food innovation is more vibrant than any time in history.
The Food Innovation Institute now offers food innovation workshops and executive leadership training on food innovation. For more information contact Dr, Darrel Suderman, President of The Food Innovation Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org (www.foodbevbiz.com), and Adjunct Professor of Product Development at Johnson & Wales.
Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi.