Inside Campbell Soup’s product development process

by Keith Nunes
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PORTLAND, ORE. --The challenge for any product developer is to sift through the “noise” and narrow his or her efforts to develop products around specific insights. At the Campbell Soup Co., such an effort has been distilled into its Culinary “Trendscape” that provides insights that the company’s product development teams may use to build products around.

“The Culinary Trendscape is a way of looking at experiences in the world and makes it translatable in the world we live in,” said David Landers, senior chef for Campbell’s Culinary & Baking Institute. “This is how I do my job. It is how I make sure what I am finding in the world is relevant and interesting to the Campbell Soup Co.”

Mr. Landers spoke March 13 at the Research Chefs Association’s annual meeting and Culinology Expo and outlined five “big” buckets that are used by the company to start the ideation process – professional, media, marketplace, restaurant, and culture/cuisine. Components of each bucket include vendor partners, magazines, cookbooks and blogs, specialty shops and retail food markets, fine dining restaurants and quick-service operations, and past and present cultural influences.

“The buckets allow us (to) translate information and make it easy to use,” he said.

For 2014, Mr. Landers highlighted several trends from the Culinary Trendscape report that the company believes will gain momentum in 2014, including Brazilian cuisine, fermentation, new Jewish deli, sophisticated sweets, beverage-inspired flavors and bolder burgers. 

“The trends we are talking about are what we are seeing being talked about in the world,” Mr. Landers said.

The World Cup soccer tournament will take place in Brazil this year, and the attention the event garners will influence consumer interest in the country and its cuisine.

“Most people know about two things from Brazil – barbecue and acai,” Mr. Landers said. “But there is much more.”

The Culinary Trendscape highlights Brazil’s national dish, feijoada completa, which is a rich stew of beans and smoked meats that is served with rice and sautéed collard greens and topped with farofa. Other flavors highlighted in the report include a seafood stew called moqueca, which is flavored with palm oil and coconut milk.

The second trend Mr. Landers discussed was fermentation.

“Fermentation is not new,” he said. “For me what is interesting is not the topic, but the conversation we are having. We are talking about fish sauces, which are not new, but new to many of us. It is about flavor twists and the fact we are starting to appreciate sour flavors. It may have started with pickling, but people seem more open to sour flavors.”

For the new Jewish deli trend, Mr. Landers said it is about people like him discovering their pasts.

“People are recreating foods they probably never experienced in an authentic way,” he said.

He referenced contemporary delis like Rye in Minneapolis, Kenny & Zuke’s in Portland and Katz’s Deli in New York City where consumers can get house-made pickles, smoked meats, cured fish, grainy mustards, artisan breads and schmaltz.

“It’s looking at where we have been and creating now with a modern sensibility,” he said.

Sophisticated sweets are products that combine distinct flavors from spices, botanicals and fresh fruit and add them to traditional products such as donuts, popcorn and ice cream.

The beverage-inspired flavor trend references the addition of coffee and wine flavors to foods and other beverages.

“We (Campbell Soup Co.) have a roasted chicken and chardonnay Slow Kettle Soup,” Mr. Landers said. “It’s not a random white wine soup. We as a culture appreciate different varieties of white wine, and that appreciation is extending elsewhere.”

Finally, the bolder burger trend is about the fact burgers do not need to feature a ground beef patty anymore.

“We are seeing new protein options being added,” Mr. Landers said.

New options may include chicken, lamb, brisket, quinoa and bean patties.

“Next, the bun is changing,” he said. “It’s not just about a regular old potato roll anymore. Let’s put it in a quesadilla. Let’s use a pretzel roll. Let’s fry some ramen noodles and make that the bun.”

Many of the examples Mr. Landers referenced in his presentation involved comfort foods with a twist, and in a follow-up interview he said that was intentional.

“Comfort food is who we are,” he said. “Ice cream and donuts – we all accept them. The question we and a lot of other people are trying to answer is how can we make them fun and different.”
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