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NYT's Food Creators

NYT's Food Creators

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Published by LauraNovak
The Willy Wonka of the food world creating the products you love.
The Willy Wonka of the food world creating the products you love.

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Published by: LauraNovak on Mar 13, 2011
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04/12/2011

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3/13/11 2:27 PMTo Eat and Drink What No One Has Tried Before - New York TimesPage 1 of 4http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/26/business/smallbusiness/26FLAVOR.html?_r=1&scp=39&sq=laura%20novak&st=cse
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To Eat and Drink What No One Has Tried Before
Fred Mertz for The NewYork Times
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Rich Gorski and Laura Tringale, technicians at Mattson, a food and beverage developer, working on atea recipe.By LAURA NOVAKPublished: September 26, 2007
FOSTER CITY, Calif.IF Willy Wonka were a real person, he might well be confecting in ahitecoatat Mattson,afood labhere,justsouth of SanFrancisco, home to someof the brightestand most far-out f ood creators in the country .There are no EverlastingGobstoppers rollingoff a conveyor belt. Instead, this lab is the creative control center for thousands of items Americans eat every day. Whether it’s frozen, cooked orpoured, chances are Mattson has had a hand in bringing it to yourmouth.Mattson, which is named for its founder, Pete Mattson, calls itself the largestindependent developer of new food and beverage products in the United States. It isdifficult to quantify the competition, because some food labs develop only formulas,while others focus solely on preparation and packaging. Mattson estimates it has just afew competitors, and says that none of them provide its range of services.What sets Mattson apart is its presence across the beverage, fast food and packagedgoods industries. Its 70 employees cross-train as chefs, food scientists, engineers andmarketing specialists to deliver products for clients likeStarbucks, Del Monte and Mrs.Fields cookies. They are inventors as well as entertainers who are committed toinnovation, seeing it as critical to success in the vast, competitive and disaster-litteredworld of food creation.“In the food industry, your greatest competitive advantage is being first to market,” saidSteve Gundrum, president and chief executive of Mattson. “It’s all about speed.”
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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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3/13/11 2:27 PMTo Eat and Drink What No One Has Tried Before - New York TimesPage 3 of 4http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/26/business/smallbusiness/26FLAVOR.html?_r=1&scp=39&sq=laura%20novak&st=cse
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participate in what Mattson calls its “trends luncheons.” White Castle has been workingwith Mattson for four years and attributes the success of its roasted garlic cheeseburgerand chicken rings to its work with the food scientists and marketing gurus here.One day this month, Jamie T. Richardson, the director of marketing for the White CastleManagement Company, listened to a presentation on 18 food trends while Mattson chefsserved him an eight-course lunch. Each recipe illustrated what Mattson views as thenext big craving or a coming retail concept: blueberries are out, and acai fruit(pronounced ah-sigh-EE) is in as a superfood; and specifying provenance, not only onrestaurant menus but also on packaged products, is gaining momentum.Guided by a Mattson chef, Mr. Richardson used a syringe to inject propylene glycolalginate, espresso and sugar into a martini glass of calcium lactate and water to create“javiar”  java and caviar  which he ate on toast as a palate cleanser. “We get access tosome of the best minds in the business and resources that allow us to move more quickly and think more effectively,” he said. “Resource-wise, it is not efficient for us to try toreplicate this.”Mattson also does rigorous market testing. A staging area sends as many as 12,000prototypes  like granola bars, salad kits, frozen pizza and carbonated beverages  toAmerican households annually. (The link to participate isfoodcom.com/signup.) Withinhours of participants’ receiving products, Mattson provides clients with recorded voice-mail messages that reflect the recipients’ visceral responses to packaging, taste and easeof use.The future at Mattson is a closely guarded secret, but Mr. Gundrum was willing todescribe today’s appetite. “In the past, you had to give up something to eat wholesome,”he said. “Something we’re striving to do is improve the pleasure from really healthy foods. It’s not the next frontier. It’s the existing frontier.”
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Carl F Maulbeck added this note
prophets all of capitalism could profit from - " “They need someone like us to say, ‘No, the best idea is to go here." - great article, laura
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