Featured Article: Taste of Inspiration from the Kitchen: Turning Ideas into Novelties

From seasons to trends and latest innovations, dining options are being revamped as fast as consumer tastes and demands are changing. Finding inspiration to launch successful flavors, products or recipes can be a real challenge for chefs and companies that have to deal with the rapid replacement of products on the market and the logistics behind them. New product development and recipe creation traditionally need to start with brainstorming sessions and time – both easier said than done. Innovative ideas require creativity and forecasting abilities to ensure a profitable future. Here are the most common ways to find inspiration to help facilitate or better prepare you and your team for creating the next big thing.

Get Inspired from the Source
Partner with your customers! Shared information from your customers represents a crucial asset for businesses. Allow your customers to actively play a role and take responsibility in products and recipe development. It is in everyone’s best interest to work hand-in-hand to boost inspiration and develop something your customers actually asked for. This concept, also referred to as co-creation by companies, has the advantage of quickly reaching the market needs and simply improving existing offerings. Todd Richter, executive pastry chef at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, NC, says that his members’ feedback is of high importance and that he tries as much as possible to implement desserts and flavor suggestions into his menu.

Customers also play a fundamental part during the ideas’ development process. Testing recipes and products is necessary to determine the success of a novelty. Specials or limited time offers (LTOs) are a great way for trying out new recipes that incorporate seasonal or uncommon ingredients. Another time-tested option is conducting focus groups, but that can get tedious and timely. Companies can also get creative in testing their new products before they start putting them on the market via nontraditional methods. Social media and surveys are a great way to tap into your customer’s wants. Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” Contest asked for direct input from its customers to see which flavor they wanted the most between Sriracha, Cheesy Garlic Bread and Chicken & Waffles.

Another way to get inspired from your customers is through their online posts. Pictures of your customers’ favorite dishes and desserts are everywhere. Social media sites such as Pinterest and Instagram are the new platform for consumers to comment on the latest crazy flavors they came across while grocery shopping or the incredible meal they had in a foreign destination. Marketers don’t have to ask for it anymore; the information is readily available. By spending time on some of your customers’ boards, you may find some parallels and ideas of the desserts and flavors they are seeking.

Read the Experts
Each year, trends are established for fashion, graphic design, cars and also for food companies. It is challenging to predict the future of the food industry, but trends are a good indicator of the growing popularity of concepts, flavors and evolution of tastes. Released towards the end of the year, culinary trends for the upcoming year are all over specialized magazines, company press releases, blogs, organizations and events. Specialized market research companies also reveal what will bloom in the industry in the coming year. These references can be very resourceful for chefs and companies to develop new products. Many of the resources are forecasts based on surveys from customers, chefs and big companies from the industry. To have the information come to you, subscribe to industry newsletters and magazines, which are generally free. Also, follow the headline makers via their social media handles.

Chef Richter explains how the seasons are a source of inspiration for him: “I change our dessert menu by the seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter, and try to incorporate local and seasonal products to inspire our menu offering and develop flavor compatibilities.”

One great thing about chefs is that they love to share their passions. Spending time looking up recipes from their cookbooks and reading about their tricks and techniques will trigger new ideas and help you understand where they are coming from. Chef cookbooks contain a plethora of beautiful and appetizing recipes to try with different themes from seasons for modern or traditional inspirations.

Content marketing from brands constitutes another useful source of creativity. Most companies conduct market research regularly in order to provide their customers with updated content about trends and innovations. eNewsletters are usually sent once a month to their subscribers and website articles are written frequently to help the target audience understand the market. Companies will usually associate their latest innovations with the latest trends to help their customers respond to the changing demand. Some companies also maintain a recipe database for their clients’ convenience.

Utilize Your Peers, Mentors & Travelling Experiences
Top-notch restaurants from all over the word set the trends. According to The Food Network, 75 percent of chefs take inspiration from other restaurant menus. While chefs spend time developing new recipes in their kitchen, they also eat out, assist with seminars and visit their mentors to find inspirations. Emerging techniques can be learned amongst peers who willingly share their passion and jump on opportunities to demonstrate their skills within the community.

While dining out, chefs are paying close attention to every detail on their plate. The way the food is cut, the flavors are paired and the colors are chosen can transform the whole experience. And it’s not just about experiencing local menus but also traveling to new destinations to get a taste of other regions and countries. Chefs and marketers travel the world to encapsulate their experiences in a plate or concept, and look for ideas and inspirations that will satisfy a changing market. This is costly, but should be budgeted for every couple years.

Of course, in-house testing is also part of the process. Be it the Research and Development Department for companies or a kitchen transformed into a lab for chefs, inspiration also comes from the team. Chefs tend to encourage their staff to test new recipes that include pioneering ingredients and flavor combinations for their next menu, or invite other chefs into their kitchens for the day to get a fresh perspective on their developments. Internal and external food competitions within restaurant groups are common in kitchens where only a selection of few ingredients is allowed to boost imagination and originality.

Food Events & TV Shows
Food shows and trade events are also a place of exchange where brands and chefs can find inspiration. Trade shows are where the latest trends, products and innovations in the industry are showcased on one floor for 3-4 days. The National Restaurant Association Show, for instance, is an international foodservice marketplace in Chicago which gathers more than 1,800 suppliers and tens of thousands of buyers together to shape the future of restaurants and foodservice hospitality.

This trade show is known for revealing menu trends and companies’ innovations every year. All of the brands featured want to showcase their latest and greatest, creating a stage for businesses to find inspiration in everything from huge displays to a bite of a sample.

Celebrity chefs and cooking shows have become very prominent in North America and have had a considerable impact on American food and products. Award-winning chefs and restaurateurs provide tips and ideas, and access to their kitchens and techniques as never seen before. They are also educating the public in the world of food, opening up doors for new and exciting things. “Top Chef ” competitions, for example, are a great source of inspiration for challenging cuisines of all types. Episodes that have themes such as “Gas Station Cuisine,” “Eat like an Animal” and “Culinary Olympics” provide a plethora of new ideas on how to approach multiple challenges faced by brands and restaurants. A recent episode provided advice on how to create dishes for kids who are very picky eaters by arranging the look of the plate or the color of the food. Watching your favorite chef on TV is the easiest way to relax and find your next idea!

Grocery Aisles
Another way to discover what can be done in terms of food pairing or creative concepts is to walk through the aisles of grocery stores. To get an idea of what is new in the home kitchen, nothing is easier than looking for the snacks, dips and prepared meals that consumers are getting excited about. Think about all the “off the shelf” products that have made their way to foodservice. Oftentimes, the sight of a pile of cucumber is enough to think about making that trending tzatziki sauce. Grocery stores constitute a source of inspiration because they gather thousands of products together for consumers to take and make meals out of.

Tested in labs like new perfumes, sketched on the paper like cloth patterns for the next collection, culinary prototypes are not too different from every other artistic creation. Writers, painters and musicians evoke inspiration behind their masterpieces; the creative process for brands and chefs is not too far apart. Starting with brainstorming sessions and ideas, chefs and marketers are always working on developing the next concept or dish that will create buzz. Trends are being reinvented each year to provide customers with the culinary experiences they are looking for. Chefs are known for setting the trends in their kitchen before it can reach grocery aisles.

From cookbooks to grocery aisles, peer menus, industry experts and bloggers, inspiration is everywhere and can come from the simplest daily routine such as reading a poetry line or thinking about childhood memories. Once chefs can find their muse in the kitchen, there should be no barrier to turning simple ideas into novelties.