ORLANDO, Fla. — Dreaming up fan-favorite menu items might not even be the hardest part of menu development. It takes at least 50 steps to launch a new concoction, said Jessica Williams, founder and CEO of Food Forward Thinking LLC, Louisville, Ky.
As a food scientist for Louisville, Ky.-based companies KFC and Thorntons Inc., Williams learned that skipping steps meant risking profit. “The most important R&D advice I ever got was test like you’ll launch, and launch like you tested,” she said at this year’s Convenience Retailing University in Orlando, Fla.
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Plan for the worst
Managing realistic expectations is an essential part of the menu development process. Before launching a new dish, Williams said it’s crucial to beat up the product in as many ways as possible. “To me, it’s not about laziness,” she said. “We all don’t want to take extra steps, so that’s what happens at the c-store level as well.”
If the product can’t stand the abuse, operators should not be afraid to hit the kill switch. “Including an exit plan is not pessimistic,” she said. “It’s really smart.”
Like scientists in other fields, food scientists need to diligently catalog their research. Taking detailed notes and photos of every step can help convenience stores understand why an item did not withstand the testing process, Williams said. It’s even harder to regroup and document a successful launch. With all the excitement around the new product, researchers can forget to stop and ask why it’s a winner, she said.
Leverage manufacturer relationships
Working closely with suppliers can help smooth out some of the kinks of menu development. Williams said a manufacturer has never denied her a request for a sample. She does not recommend, however, that retailers devise a menu around a single bag or case. Asking manufacturers for launch materials can also give c-stores a running start.
Samples are not the only resources suppliers can hook c-stores up with. Operators can head to manufacturers’ large, commercial kitchens to do their test work or even ask suppliers to conduct the testing. “They have every smallware under the sun, and more room that could potentially fit new equipment,” she said.