I recently taught a course called Advanced Batter and Breading Technology at JBT Food Tech's technology training center in Sandusky, Ohio. Twenty years ago two Stein executives wrote two chapters on food processing for my Batter and Breading Technology book. In recent years, JBT Food Tech purchased Stein, which is now a division of JBT. Over the past 20 years, Stein became the market leader in batter and breading equipment with a highly regarded international reputation. Its reputation was a direct result of new product engineering innovation, so I was astonished to its Food Innovation Hall of Fame composed of more than 110 food equipment patents.
As I have mentioned before, food patents represent a tangible measure of food innovation. In prior food processing history, achieving food patents was a business goal communicated to bench-top food scientists up through the executive ranks. A food patent was a measure of personal and department success that resulted in company awards at the annual company business meeting or Christmas party. But now days, food patents are rare, and most companies do not make achieving food patents a business priority.
But Stein, now JBT Food Tech, chose a different path 30 years ago. From the company beginning, Stein and his hands-on executives made it a business goal to differentiate and grow their company through engineering innovation. They have also been able to compete on price while maintaining manufacturing within the United States – despite the heavy U.S. tax burden and regulations. The founders knew that their company would only grow through engineering innovation.
What began as a primary batter and breading equipment manufacturer, eventually grew to include industrial food fryers, industrial food spiral freezers (i.e. Frigoscandia), spiral ovens and counter flow convection ovens, citrus juice extractors, filling and closing equipment, food portioning, labeling and food refrigeration. And no matter which company it acquired, or outside company acquired it, the commitment to innovation was embraced by every owner that could see that innovation was the true value of the company; that translated to sales and profit.
Sure, they do have some competitors that try to undercut their innovation on price, but sound forward-looking businesses understand that value is not just a price point, but true value comes from making their products unique in the customer marketplace.
Keep JBT Food Tech/Stein in mind when you debate the true value of food innovation, and copy its business model so you can begin your own Patent Hall of Food Innovation Fame.
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 KFCs development team of Popcorn Chicken, now a $1B international product invented by Gene Gagliardi.