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Winning Innovation for Supply Challenged Times

Conference season is in full swing as we get through March and into April. It’s great to be safely back out there with friends and colleagues in the industry, collaborating and learning from each other. Cutting Edge Innovation had the pleasure of hosting a panel at the COEX conference, which is run by the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA).

IFMA has been around for 70 years and brings together various stakeholders in the foodservice industry such as operators, manufacturers, distributors, and consultants to share insights and best practices. The topic of our panel was Winning Innovation for Supply Challenged Times. The panel consisted of:

  • Patty Trevino, the CMO of Red Lobster and previously of Carl’s Jr./Hardees

  • Stan Frankenthaler, a menu consultant, and industry veteran of Dunkin’, Craftworks Breweries, as well as his own restaurants

  • Nicole Votano, an accomplished industry chef most recently with Reef Kitchens (Ghost Kitchens)

Everyone throws around the word innovation and has a different definition for it. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you may have seen me say that while there isn’t a perfectly correct definition. I like “Innovation isn’t just a creative idea, it’s an idea that solves a consumer need that they will pay for.” We have no shortage of creative ideas, and if you’ve ever worked in R&D or Marketing, you know everyone has an opinion on what you should be doing! However, creative ideas aren’t enough, that new product or program must get the consumer to say YES to that idea, it must be DIFFERENTIATED from the competition, and it must fill a need.

In the session, our panel of operators shared their experiences and real-world examples to answer key burning questions around this topic. The goal was to bring together a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and service styles to discuss what innovation means in unprecedented times like this with all our supply, labor, and other challenges within the foodservice industry. Here are some top points that I took away while moderating the group through a lively and informative discussion:

On the purpose of innovation in today’s environment:

  • Innovation is always a balance of new product and platform innovation with menu renovation. You must do both to be successful and not be caught with an empty pipeline.

  • Now is still a great time to do some “weeding” of underperforming menu items, while at the same time incorporating improvements to those key categories that need it.

  • Don’t worry about scaling to the full system to make a splash. You can create micro LTOs that are buzzworthy that are only available in certain markets a week or even a day. The example given here was the CBD burger from Carl’s. It was a major news item that was only at one restaurant!

  • Alternatively, you can define micro LTO differently, where instead of lasting a month, it is systemwide but only lasts a week or two, and until supply runs out.

  • Now may be the right time to add a platform. This is harder than adding a product; adding a platform means a big investment and commitment to supply and continuing to find uses for those new SKUs. This helps suppliers know that you’ll be working with them for the long haul.

On dealing with the labor issue

· Really double down on using the right type of training materials. Take a hard look at them. We’re bringing people into the kitchen with a much different background and skill level, and you need to adjust appropriately.

· Where possible, cross utilize skills the team already has. An example was that Corner Bakery launched frittata bites – a baked egg frittata in smaller and portable form. They utilized pans and ingredients already in the restaurant, and then relied on the skill of baking which they do every day.

On the increased prevalence of delivery

  • The way consumers eat has changed, and it isn’t going away so we need to accept that “Food to Home” is here to stay, whether take away or delivery.

  • We must start thinking about building the menu for delivery and off-premise. An example here might be developing the right coatings for fried chicken sandwiches or for French fries. What can we do to give diners the experience they are looking for all the way into their dining rooms at home?

On underutilized tools that operators should be using to further innovation efforts:

  • Commodity Boards are an amazing wealth of resources. Many have fantastic consumer insights and subscriptions to major data services, with a focus on their commodity, of course. They may also be able to provide you with additional ideation, culinary support, or marketing and PR.

  • Social media has a wealth of information on what your customer is looking for. Dig into this for insights into what your guests might be seeking that you don’t currently offer.

  • The front-line crew are an amazing resource for information. They interact with your brand and your customer daily. Talk to them and learn what they are hearing from your guests!

I learned a great deal from listening to these experts during the panel and hope that this summary of key points is helpful as you think about your own strategies for innovation in these challenging times. If you’d like some help developing your own foodservice strategy or menu strategy, please reach out to us at

At Cutting Edge Innovation, we help food and beverage brands understand their unique value proposition and define their foodservice strategy to accelerate growth. We create foodservice entry strategies for manufacturers, assist in business development to accelerate sales, and develop robust and differentiated menu strategies for operators.


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