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Formulating for FoodserviceFormulating for Foodservice

February 19, 2010

10 Min Read
Formulating for Foodservice

By Charlie Baggs, Contributing Editor

The market for manufacturing products for foodservice is dynamic and full of opportunities. A product-development team has many areas to focus upon, including flavor building, nutritional management, cost and operational limitations. And although each foodservice client will pose unique challenges, with a dedicated and targeted approach to product development, the process can be very efficient.

Initial steps

Regardless of whether a food will be cooked in a manufacturing facility or in the back of the house, formulators need to start with a gold standard that should be mirrored in the finished product. This might be a current menu item that the operator wants to streamline preparation for, or it might require the development of a completely new concept to pique interest. But for any product, it is critical that the product-development team understands both the manufacturing and operator capabilities. With this knowledge, you can design a product that delivers on flavor and key culinary touch points, as well as one that synergizes with what the operator can accomplish in the back of the house.

We typically begin by conducting a tasting at the clients restaurant. This helps us evaluate many key jumping-off points for R&D. If we are working on an appetizer for an operator, we will taste and dissect each appetizer currently on their menu. We will look for how well the product delivers on the intended flavor, size or value, color, flavor, authenticity, and presentation.

As we develop products for any market, including foodservice, we have to determine any and all opportunities to affect specific areas where we can add to or enhance the product. Product developers have a wide range of ways to differentiate a product, such as through flavor or via a cooking process, or perhaps a combination of both. Cooking techniques like caramelizing, braising, marinating, smoking and battering in a finished product thats ready for back-of-the-house speed-scratch preparation can save restaurants a great deal of time and moneyand deliver a consistent product every time. Every aspect of the product needs to be taken into consideration. For instance, if a product is marinated, you will have to consider how it will affect the ultimate color of cooked product. If there are any sugars in the pump, then the product will get darker as it cooks from the carbohydrates caramelizing or the sugars and protein participating in Maillard browning.

Sometimes a manufacturer will work with a foodservice client to determine the best way to execute a cooking technique at the operator level. In those cases, the goal is to set up the best operational procedures to execute consistent cooking every time. Developing a familiarity with the operators back-of-the-house capabilities is of utmost importance.

Many foodservice productsparticularly at the chain levelare value-added, and the finishing touches are applied at the operator level, such as distributing a heat-and-eat center-of-the-plate protein, its sauce and garnish separately, and then retherming and assembling them just prior to service. These speed-scratch items may be easier for operators to deliver consistently and save preparation time, but will tend to cost a bit more. So the food cost may be higher with a speed-scratch product. However, the labor cost in the back of the house will be lower, perhaps balancing the equation.

A matter of taste

The ultimate flavor of a product will directly affect its quality, and its perception and cravabilityattributes that will help get consumers back in the door. When developing the gold standardand later, matching itdetermining the right acidity, saltiness, flavor and texture, color, and sweetness are all important and require balance.

A foods acidity can brighten up the taste experience. Several acidic ingredients are useful in recipes, including lemon juice, lime juice and various vinegars, like rice-wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, apple-cider vinegar and malt vinegar. The idea is to allow the flavor to come through in a recipe while highlighting the balance of taste to stimulate the palate.

Sweet ingredients, like granulated or caramelized sugar, agave nectar, honey, apple- or pear-juice concentrate, and molasses, to name a few, will help control the impact of bitter taste and maximize flavor.

Texture comes into play in a formulation in various ways. The food can be homogenous, such as when blended, or texture can be altered via a garnish. A distinctively chewy texture is great in a muffin, for example.

Finally, salt is necessary in most every applicationwhether sweet or savory. Salt often works with all other ingredients to maximize the combined flavors.

A healthy perspective

When developing a product for foodservice, its vital to consider any and all on-trend nutritional guidelines for trans fats, saturated fats, sodium and calories. These areas are currently under the watchful eye of the consumer.

In an increasing number of municipalities and states, use of hydrogenated trans fats is limited or banned. Generally, any new foodservice R&D projects should not use any trans fats.

The type of frying oil can also affect the flavor of productwhether via the actual flavor of the oil or in a negative fashion via off flavors that may develop as the oil loses its stability over time. For both frying and sautéing, I like to use low-linolenic (high-stability) soybean oil or high-oleic/low-linolenic (high-stability) canola oil, or a blend of these oils. These nonhydrogenated oils have a neutral flavor and are quite versatile, with no trans fats.

We have to develop products to meet each clients nutritional parameters and labeling requirements. Having the precise balance of ingredients in the formula is challenging and takes a keen effort. Computer software helps us every step of the way to assure we meet the projects nutritional requirements.

Some foodservice accounts are specific about the types of ingredients used to develop productsparticularly these days as foodservice labeling continues to come under scrutiny. Therefore, its vital to make sure you know the requirements or any limitations you may have when working with an operator. Keeping the label cleannot using artificial preservatives, additives and/or flavors, etc.will keep you in the clear for most accounts.

Controlling cost

Foodservice product development needs to be regimented. However, allowing chefs to be innovative is how great new products come to light. In order to really succeed, a foodservice manufacturer must also understand the proper way to develop a positive and beneficial relationship with vendors or purveyors, maximizing the use of each ingredient and finished product that comes through the door, minimizing the need for on-site ingredient and product storage, and so on. One valuable way to formulate new foodservice products for a particular operator or chain is by utilizing the current pantry listdiscovering how ingredients and products commonly used by the operator can come into play in new menu items.

We always estimate the food cost initially when creating a product specific to a foodservice account. To remain within budget, sometimes the portion size will need to be adjusted, and at other times we will select less-expensive ingredients. However, our focus is always heavily weighted on the ultimate flavor and integrity of the product.

Calculating the food cost also includes taking into account the projected menu price to get a food-cost percentage. This is valuable for the operator to help solidify potential margins.

Operational challenges

At times, restaurants pose operational limitations. For example, some restaurant concepts dont have stoves in the back of the house or on the line. In such cases, something like sauces would generally need to be brought in as a manufactured product, and then rethermed via microwave before service. You want the sauce to have a fresh flavor, served at the proper temperature and perfectly complementing the product it was designed for. This can be accomplished with a creative use of natural flavors, minimally processed ingredients and/or textural components. For instance, herb particulates and easily identifiable pieces of vegetables in a sauce for pasta will come across as fresher than one that appears homogenous.

Or perhaps the fry station is already at maximum capacity. In such cases, if you want to introduce a fried item, it may have to be cooked in the oven or microwavebut it would need a specially formulated coating that mimics the textural and flavor attributes achieved in the fryer.

Also, some restaurant kitchens dont have any knives. In such scenarios, everything needs to be pre-sliced or chopped to size. This seemingly small amount of processing can affect freshness of some ingredients, like onions, carrots, garlic and herbs, affecting their texture and flavor over time. Using modified-atmosphere packaging can also help cut herbs and vegetables retain their freshness.

Foodservice items that will be kept warm until service, such as under heat lamps or in steam tables, will need tolerance built into the product. Sauces cannot break and may require stabilizers, and breaded items need to maintain their coating. Soups that will be kept warm for hours also require stability so that degradation doesnt occur during holding. Evaporation can also affect the quality and flavor of a held soup. Manufacturing soups and sauces in pouches sized to meet the turnover needs of the operator can help prevent waste.

It is helpful to know as much as possible about the menuwhat sells and why, what does not sell and why, and the margins on menu items. Are there trends in the menu mix that represent a favored section of the menu? The menu mix can also show you where there are poorly performing items on the menu, and possibly an area that could be developed with better, on-target products.

Designing and formulating products for foodservice is challenging. The many challenges can be approached with specialized attention to details: streamlining products for each operations back-of-the-house system, staying within budget, and delivering the best quality possible. The goal is for the consumer to come back for more. Manufacturers need to focus design efforts on quality products with memorable, craveable flavor.

Charlie Baggs is president and executive chef of Charlie Baggs, Inc., Chicago, a company specializing in product and flavor development, as well as marketing support. He is a member of the Research Chefs Association.

A Formulating for Foodservice Case Study: Strongbow Solutions

Strongbow Inn, Valparaiso, IN, has many great menu items, but the restaurant is best known for its turkey dishes. When Strongbow put in new ovens to cook their turkeys more efficiently, the chef, Dave Hemdel, found that the turkey drippings produced in these new ovens didnt match the flavor profile and appearance of the drippings that were coming out of the old ovens. He contacted us to see if we had a turkey base that he could use in place of the pan drippings. We sent a couple of our core turkey-base products for him to try. After trying them, he decided they didnt have the flavor and appearance that he neededa base that was more of a turkey consommé rather than a stock or broth. The original turkey drippings were clear, with an intense roasted-turkey flavor, while the base we had sent was cloudy. He sent us samples of the original turkey dripping liquid, as well as samples of the restaurants famous Strongbow turkey noodle soup that greatly relied on the drippings flavor.

It took several weeks and sample trials to formulate a base that would work for Hemdel, but in the end I was able to formulate a product that would work. The accepted baseused exclusively by Strongbow for its soupwas centered on a reaction flavor manufactured to mimic the clear turkey drippings in a highly concentrated stock. It had a very intense roasted turkey flavor with delicate mirepoix undertones.

Peter Hargarten, Director of Research and Development, Integrative Flavors


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