Snack of all shades

By Hayley Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: New product development

Snack of all shades
Kettle Chips's new product development manager Kaye Carruthers talks to Hayley Brown about some of the latest trends in the snacking category

The festive season is well and truly behind most of us, but not for Kettle Foods. Its new product development (NPD) team is already deciding which new products to launch in time for the Christmas 2010 market. "It's obviously far too early to reveal what these launches might be, but I will say that I think some of the major trends in the New Year will include Mediterranean, Greek and Moroccan flavours," says NPD manager Kaye Carruthers.

Carruthers has a background in business and, for a while, held a procurement role at Unilever. "This probably sounds unusual for someone in NPD because a lot of the job is about creativity. But my key strength is project management, which is an essential part of my job at Kettle Chips."

To help her with the NPD process, Carruthers uses Microsoft Project IT software to manage projects. The software maps out very detailed timelines and keeps notes on each step. "This IT software is not useful for everyone because it is painstakingly detailed. But this is the way that I like to work Not everyone has access to the system because there's far more information than required. So we have our own simplified in-house software system on the intranet, which fires out emails to relevant parties such as marketing, finance, production, operations, logistics teams for feedback."

The company uses a 'stage gate' process to work out whether a launch will be a success. The different stages include feasibility, development, launch and review. "The review stage is the most important," says Carruthers, "We believe it's OK to make mistakes sometimes it's even essential but we must learn from them."

For example, she says that Kettle Chips has sometimes mistimed the launch of certain experimental flavour combinations. About six years ago the manufacturer launched a Japanese teriyaki crisp flavour. Teriyaki is a sweet soy sauce marinade widely used in Japanese cooking. "We found that we were far too ahead of the game, as most consumers had never even heard of this flavour. Being ahead of trends can be just as damaging as being behind. Now I think that it would probably be very popular, as foreign flavours are in trend and consumers are travelling more."

But she says it's very important not to launch ambiguous flavours. Its seasonal African barbecue flavour was not as successful as the company had hoped because consumers did not know what to expect. "Spelling out flavours makes for more successful launches," she adds.

Produced in partnership with a brewer, the Mature Cheddar with Adnams Broadside Beer flavour of Kettle Chips was hugely successful. Most of its appeal came from the quality of the ingredients used, according to Carruthers. "Our cheese really is cheese, our beer really is beer; all of our ingredients really are what we say they are. They go through a process in which they are freeze-dried and turned into seasonings," she says.

The cheese and beer crisps started off as a seasonal product but were so successful that they were added to the core range. "Seasonal product launches allow the company more flexibility and give it the opportunity to experiment with new and exciting flavours, without having to commit them to the core range," she says. Some of these have included Sweet Chilli flavour, as well as a Buffalo Mozzarella, which were eventually added to the core range because of their popularity.

Kettle Chips has a diverse NPD team, which comprises six people including a couple of development chefs, food technologists and packaging experts. It makes some supermarket own-label crisps, but mostly it manufactures products under its own brand. Turnaround time is quick and it can launch products within four months, although some products can take up to two years.

"I get my inspiration from everywhere. Whether it's supermarket delis abroad or eating out in restaurants, I'm always on the look-out for a winning flavour combination. I love my job and think that there's nothing more rewarding than seeing someone buy your product in a supermarket."

Related topics: NPD

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