NEW ORLEANS — In the 82 years since the beginnings of Newly Weds Foods as a maker of ice cream cake rolls, the privately-owned company has slowly but steadily moved into new product lines and new geographic markets. The company’s newly unveiled Kitchencounters program highlights the extraordinary degree to which Newly Weds has grown.
Described by the company as its “ears and eyes on the food world,” Kitchencounters will allow Newly Weds through its culinary centers in Thailand, Australia, China, the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, to collaborate with customers through the use of multi-media connections.
“We’re taking advantage of the culinary centers we have around the world, and we’re bringing them together utilizing video conferencing technology,” said Tom Downs, director of marketing.
Mr. Downs discussed the new program with Milling & Baking News in an interview June 24 during the 2014 Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in New Orleans
Tapping into opportunities created by technological change always has been part of the Newly Weds story. The original ice cream cake roll, a product no longer made by the company today, was enabled when the company’s founder, Paul M. Angell, developed a batter technology that allowed sheet cake to be rolled without cracking.
Present at the birth of the frozen foods industry, Newly Weds expanded in the 1950s from its ice cream cake roots.
“The industry began developing coating systems for fish sticks and other frozen foods in the 1950s, and Newly Weds found ways to create products that would withstand the rigors of the freeze-thaw cycles and the distribution system,” he said. “By the mid-1950s we were the largest producer of coatings in the United States. It’s a position we hold until this day.”
The move into coatings required Newly Weds to develop systems specific to individual customer’s needs, which shaped the kind of supplier the company has become, Mr. Downs said.
“Everyone knows that we are a customized supplier,” he said. “We don’t have catalogues to just go in and pick things out. Taste remains central.”
Mr. Downs said changes at the company, large and small, often have reflected changes in the marketplace.
“We introduced Japanese style bread crumbs and that technology to the United States in 1977,” Mr. Downs said. “So Panko today can be traced back to Newly Weds bringing that technology here.”
In the late 1980s, the company entered the flavors and seasonings fields. Through acquisition and organic growth, this segment has become a major business for Newly Weds, Mr. Downs said.
“In the early 2000s, we recognized the importance of food safety products,” he said. “Now we have a complete portfolio of shelf life extension and antimicrobial products within our IsoStat line.”
With this gradual growth over time, Newly Weds built or acquired plants over an increasingly large geographic footprint. Of the company’s 25 plants, 15 are in North America, with the rest in 10 locations in Asia-Pacific and Europe. The company is led by Charles T. Angell, president, the son of the founder.
“We’re a global company,” Mr. Downs said. “We have more plants than a lot of our competitors. We like to be close to our customers. It helps facilitate our product activity, communication, transportation and other logistical aspects, all in support of our customer. Eighteen of the 25 plants have on-site R.&D. support, fully-staffed labs. It’s all there to support our customers. We make sure we have redundancies in place that ensures enough capacity and standardized manufacturing that, in the event of a catastrophe, allows us to shift production from one plant to another.”
Customization and collaboration go hand in hand, Mr. Downs said, making the company’s culinary centers an important part of how Newly Weds serves its customers. Kitchencounters looks to synergistically bring together the centers for the greater benefit of customers, he said.
“We have very creative chefs at the centers and utilize them through our own development process,” he said. “But the food industry has become global, and consumers are interested in cuisines from all over the world. Part of that is understanding that they don’t want Americanized things. Our customers all around the world are interested in products that represent authentic cuisines from around the world. We have people in place very familiar with those. We’ve connected those culinary centers and chefs through what we are calling Kitchencounters where they can connect through video conferencing with our customers here. Chefs in the United States or elsewhere demonstrate product, conduct real time ideation sessions in subjects our customers are interested in. Or, they may come to us and say, ‘Tell us what you see that’s going on.’”
To promote the initiative, Newly Weds, which generally has maintained a low profile over the years, has launched a new web site, introduced a new logo and tag line and is running advertising in support of Kitchencounters, Mr. Downs said.
While he views Newly Weds’ technological capabilities as a true strength at the company, Mr. Downs acknowledged that the company “struggled” with how to position this aspect of its work. For many years, “customized taste technology” was the company’s positioning tagline, just beneath its logo.
“Consumers don’t always view technology as something good,” he said. “They think, ‘G.M.O. is technology and so on.’ We didn’t want to be perceived as making food that was modified in that way or too ‘science-y.’ Our goal is to support our customers, and today taste is still king. So we changed our position line for the company to ‘inspiring new tastes.’
“You can’t have innovation without inspiration. We have many of the tools in place to inspire our customers in their innovation activity as well as our own. We’re being more open with our customers about what we can do for them.”