3/13/11 2:27 PMTo Eat and Drink What No One Has Tried Before - New York TimesPage 2 of 4http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/26/business/smallbusiness/26FLAVOR.html?_r=1&scp=39&sq=laura%20novak&st=cse
The company’s imprint is found on a wide variety of products, from the award-winningMama Zella pizza pie from Round Table to Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice. Dozensmore are kept in the secret “trophy room” because of agreements with the companies.Development in the food and beverage industry is accelerating because people seemingly have an endless appetite for new tastes, and Wall Street demands growth fromcompanies in the food business. According to Mintel, a market-research firm in Chicago,nearly 10,000 food products were introduced in the United States between January andAugust this year. Most were beverages, followed by bakery goods and seasonings. In2006, there were more than 17,000 new food products, 63 percent more than in 2000,the firm says.Mattson turns 30 in October, and to date, Mr. Gundrum says, it has helped get tomarket 300 product lines, more than 1,000 products, including four varieties of frozenmeals for Banquet Crock-Pot Classics by ConAgra. Mattson says it has 300 prototypes indevelopment. Most of the company’s clients are based in America; they generally pay $30,000 to $500,000 to roll out a concept. Food Processing magazine, the industry’slargest publication, will release a survey in October showing that 28 percent of respondents say they use independent product-development labs in addition to internallaboratories to research and develop products.They do so because many large companies are too “vertically integrated,” Mr. Gundrumsaid, which means they know all the manufacturing stages about a beverage, say, butmay not know how to expand into frozen foods. He added, “They need someone like usto say, ‘No, the best idea is to go here.’ ”In the 20,000-square-foot Mattson development lab, harmony reigns partly because of the corporate structure. Mr. Gundrum bought the company from Mr. Mattson in 1995and created an employee stock ownership plan, transferring equity in the company tomembers of the staff. Employees are offered $1,000 cash if they buy a hybrid vehicle.Mr. Gundrum declined to state the business’s revenues, but said he holds growth to 10percent a year to maintain the quality of the services.There are no visible barriers where the employees work. For example, there are nocabinet doors to impede technicians searching for National Starch’s Baka-Snak pre-gelatinized modified food starch; T. Hasegawa’s Natural Wok Oil Flavor No. FC 989800;or the Blue-10 Buffer Solution, used to modify relative acidity. Searching, after all,wastes precious time. The employees practice a genteel form of “shout mail” andinterrupt one another to taste a concoction.“We have become incredibly efficient at looking at something, taking one bite andknowing how to improve it without getting approval from your boss or your boss’s bossor writing a memo,” Mr. Gundrum said. “We just don’t have that kind of ceremony.”What Mattson does have is a nose for trends. It obsessively investigates popular culture,analyzing not only dietary needs and flavor crazes, but also lifestyle patterns and theInternet marketplace. For example, the company has observed that detailed informationon the Web allows people to find out how to create a recipe, say, or crush their ownwine. The demand for spicy and sweet is intense, and a move toward more casual diningis indicative of trends like a Caesar salad you can eat with your hands.To bring these trends home to clients, Mattson often asks them to roll up their sleevesand work on prototypes with the staff when visiting the lab. Some clients, like WhiteCastle, the fast-food chain based in Columbus, Ohio, touch down once a year to
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