McCormick & Co. recently created the position of chief science officer, as the leader in global flavor emphasizes its commitment to flavor innovation and healthy choices. I reached out to Hamed Faridi, a 14-year veteran of the company, to discuss flavors, trends, food science and more.
Globalization, health and wellness, and competition are influencing the culinary landscape. As the head of research and development at McCormick, what must you and your team focus on to drive flavor innovation?
We focus on science-based innovation that is designed to predict, identify and develop exciting flavors matched to consumers’ expectations. Consumers want flavors representative of the global marketplace — ingredients from the Mediterranean, India, South America, Asia and North Africa. They also want healthy choices, and they don’t want to compromise on flavor to get it. Consumers and customers want it all when it comes to flavor — wide range of flavor, convenient package sizes, various price points and healthy options. At McCormick, our job is not only to deliver all of this when consumers want it but also to anticipate and deliver it three years before they even know to ask for it.
Describe the collaboration process among chefs, restaurateurs and food scientists in flavor and product development at McCormick.
We are so fortunate at McCormick to benefit from a historically collaborative culture. Our CreateIT® process is an innovation engine consisting of teams of flavorists, sensory scientists, chefs and other professionals who work together in a highly collaborative environment. This engine starts at the fuzzy front end where we design general concepts, then rapidly prototypes and optimizes the top concepts from that session, with continuous streaming insight and guidance from consumers directly into the process. We even include panels of consumer advisers as catalysts to this process — directly interjecting consumer feedback and panels into our development phase, so no time is lost and ideas are tested in real time. The consumers provide the real-world direction we need, the chefs rapidly and consistently create and tweak delicious flavor options in our kitchens, and our food scientists in our lab create the working formulas that are safe, smart and satisfying. All pieces of this process literally work in the same building to ensure optimal, successful collaboration happens easily and naturally.
How many flavors do you produce in a year, and how many of them are successful?
We introduce hundreds of products each year for our consumer business and for customers in our industrial businesses around the globe. The vast majority of these flavors remain in the market for several years. That said, we also continually refresh our offerings on the grocery shelf — creative flavor products might replace older ones depending on changing trends, tastes and consumer preferences year to year. This is one of the things that keeps McCormick on the cutting edge of flavor: our ability to continually reinvent flavor. In fact, one of our most successful products this year has been Recipe Inspirations, a concept that consumers helped us develop that literally offers them the ability to experiment with flavors and tastes.
How do you measure flavor?
We measure flavor using analytical instrumentation in tandem with human sensory processes. McCormick enjoys state-of-the-art pioneering laboratories in both of these areas. The two labs have collaborated for many years in developing instrumental methods to predict human response to flavor, which enables rapid quality methods throughout our company. Analytical instrumentation provides powerful tools for flavor investigation, but when it comes to developing innovative and creative flavor solutions, nothing beats the human palate for evaluation.
What are some challenges of flavor innovation?
We need to continually surprise and delight our customers and consumers’ palates by creating flavorful food that is also good for you. Scientists must continually explore materials and processes as effective and unique flavor contributors. McCormick has a long history in global sourcing, scientific understanding and artful combination of natural flavoring materials. McCormick is excelling in this space, but the “all-natural” area is one the entire food industry is facing and learning how to adapt and evolve and create delicious all-natural products.
What are some opportunities of flavor innovation?
It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in the flavor business! Emerging trends in the global marketplace are bringing more exotic flavor combinations to the mainstream consumer and creating opportunities for more adventurous flavor creation. Today’s consumer has high expectations and demands novel products that are delicious, convenient and healthy. Development of these products creates exciting flavor opportunities for developing a unique, multisensory flavor experience as well as replacing the flavor contribution of ingredients that have been reduced, such as salt or fat. This requires innovative and creative flavor formulation combined with functional methods of flavor delivery. McCormick scientists utilize science and technology as a foundation for the art of flavor development to create delicious, high-performing consumer-preferred flavors.
What flavor or menu trends will you keep an eye on in 2012?
Vegetables! Consumers and the Department of Agriculture agree that we should all be eating more of them. We are looking for veggies to be on menus and in the home … as people want to enjoy the true, fresh taste of vegetables with less of the fatty saucing and overcooking. Look for vegetables prepared in ways that enhance and complement — not overpower — their natural deliciousness, such as roasting, grilling and braising.