Diamond in pursuit of the 'next big thing'

by Monica Watrous
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This year, Diamond Foods launched new Kettle Brand potato chip flavors, including Carolina barbecue and dill pickle.

SAN FRANCISCO — The future looks bright for Diamond Foods. The maker of Kettle Brand potato chips, Pop Secret popcorn and Emerald snack nuts manufactures products aligned with consumer demand for salty snacks with simple ingredients and bold flavors.

“Two of the big trends that we are currently executing aggressively against are the move to cleaner ingredient labels and the increase in flavor exploration, especially big, bold flavors,” said Holly Mensch, vice-president of innovation at Diamond Foods. “As an example, to illustrate how we are executing against cleaner labels, by the end of next summer 70% of Diamond’s sales in North America will be Non-GMO Project verified.”

This year, the company launched Kettle Brand potato chips in dill pickle, Carolina barbecue, and pepperoncini flavors and is set to introduce a new line of “boldly flavored” Emerald cashews, Ms. Mensch added.

The company recently opened a new innovation center in Salem, Ore., designed to enable more efficient and effective product development. Located near the company’s Kettle Brand facility, the center brings a multi-disciplined team of food scientists, sensory specialists and marketing, packaging and regulatory experts together under one roof, Ms. Mensch said.

“With the new top-of-the-line facilities we have the ability to bring products to market much more quickly,” she said.

Holly Mensch, v.p. of innovation at Diamond Foods.

In an interview with Food Business News, Ms. Mensch described the innovation process at Diamond Foods.

“We are always following trends, but we also take pride in looking for things that aren’t yet trends that may be the next big thing,” she said.

Food Business News: How long does it take Diamond Foods to develop a product from idea to shelf?

Holly Mensch: The timing to develop a product from idea to shelf can vary significantly depending on the complexity of the development and the manufacturing intensity.

As you can imagine, Kettle Brand new flavors can happen fairly quickly; we buy potatoes from farmers we know, we know the Kettle Brand batch cooking process inside and out (and) we know how to develop great tasting flavors.

In addition, we are always scouting for new flavors and testing new things. All of these components speed up the development from idea to shelf. If an idea is more complex — one that requires a new ingredient, a new cooking method, or even the need to buy new equipment, the timeline will be extended.

Is there a lot of consumer testing involved?

Ms. Mensch: The amount of testing varies depending on the idea and its “newness.” For things that we know well, like Kettle Brand flavors, we can develop very quickly. For those things that are newer to consumers and the world, we need to vet new suppliers for quality, do consumer testing on the idea, the product and the packaging, and, finally, do manufacturing testing to zero in on the exact cooking methods.

What new products are in the pipeline?

Ms. Mensch: We don’t have any new product announcements to share at this time, but the Diamond family of brands has been exploring innovation on all fronts —  flavors, formats and packaging. The new facility will give us more space and equipment to effectively and efficiently carry out this experimentation, with space to immediately test with consumers and gauge purchase interest on emerging innovations.
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