Tuesday 2 October
After 28 hours of travel to LA via Orlando, I finally make it to LA to meet up with Steve McCaughey, the latest recruit to the new product development team at Rich’s UK. The purpose of this lightning trip is to learn some lessons from Rich’s US associates to help us with new product development back in the UK.
The supermarkets in America are fantastic! They really know how to maximise fridge and freezer space. The bakery counter in Von’s supermarket was a visual treat. Next we make our way to Sprinkles Cup Cake shop in Beverly Hills. Inside the tiny outlet, the variety of cupcakes on offer is astounding. There are coconut shreds on red velvet bases and orange and lemon flavours with white chocolate sprinkles to name just a few. We have to get a variety to sample, so opt for the box of 12 assorted varieties, which sets us back a staggering $48 (almost £24).
Wednesday 3 October
I leave LA at 10am and board a five-hour flight touching down in Orlando and it’s 6pm. Time to finish a presentation for Tesco - thank goodness for broadband. I wonder what time it is back in the UK? I work out it’s 1pm, but that means I’ve been up since 2am UK time... now the jetlag is really starting to set in.
Thursday 4 October
I have dinner with colleagues ahead of the Rich’s International Division Research and Development conference. This gives me a chance to meet the colleagues from eight different countries with whom I will spend the next four days. The focus for this year’s conference is on packaging innovation and minimising the impact of commodity price increases.
Friday 5 October
7am and it’s a visit to the Bad Ass Café to check out the breakfast products on offer. 7.15am and there’s still no sign of anyone opening up. The store next door tells us this is the first time in five years that the Bad Ass Café hasn’t been open before 7am. They must have known we were coming! We decide to visit Starbucks instead.
I return to the workshop for a full day of discussion, including a session dedicated to reviewing the impact of commodity price increases on our products. The final session of the day allows us to review packaging innovation within Rich’s.
There are some truly innovative concepts from our internal sources, some of which look set to revolutionise the market. But I’m sworn to secrecy at this stage!
Saturday 6 October
It’s product showcase day. This is a great opportunity for each of the regions to present their latest successes. Toppings and icings are core to Rich’s business worldwide and this is our first chance to taste all the reformulated HVO and GM-free toppings and icings, which will be available to our UK customers from January 2008.
Next, our colleagues from French Meadow bakeries show us some fantastic products including their award-winning hemp seed bread. Mexico sample the Rosca de Reyes, a soft, sweet bread topped with sugared fruit, with six baby Jesus toys hidden inside. The product is superb and the concept of sharing the Rosca and finding the hidden surprise really brings the team together.
As I reflect on the day I’m amazed at how diverse taste buds are around the world but how common the business challenges are that we all face.
Sunday 7 October
My mission today is to find new and innovative packaging for the key products we sampled in Saturday’s session. We split into two teams to tackle the IBIE exhibition, looking for solutions to the packaging challenges we discussed. After three hours of meeting potential suppliers we write up our findings. For me what stood out most was the biodegradable Environmentally Responsible Packaging from Barrington Packaging Systems Group.
Monday 8 October
An opportunity to explore the show at leisure. From an innovation point of view, it is quite disappointing. As my first bakery exposition, the overall feel of the show leaves me with the impression that it lacks a clear focus. The exhibitors are enthusiastic and helpful, but I’m not convinced that I’ll ever get the samples I requested. However, from a new starter’s point of view, I get a great overview of the industry.
Tuesday 9 October
A visit to Whole Foods, Panera Bread, Charlie’s Bakery, The Dessert Lady and The Grand Floridian resort at Disney. The main objective is to compare and contrast the product offerings to gain inspiration for new product development (NPD). The Dessert Lady is undoubtedly the highlight of my day. These delicious, indulgent cakes are lovingly handcrafted and the salon where the wares are displayed is an opulent theatre of velvet and gold. Artisan pictures adorn the walls and I could easily spend the rest of the afternoon sipping one of the hundreds of wines on offer in the dimly lit enclave while indulging my way through the menu. If this café were in London there would almost certainly be a waiting list. This is a true dessert experience.
We move on to what is billed as the highlight of the day - afternoon tea at The Grand Floridian resort. The choice of teas is fabulous and the cakes are exquisite: little choux pastry swans filled with raspberry cream cheese and miniature carrot cake topped with marzipan carrots. However, after The Dessert Lady it feels like second-best.
Arriving back home I reflect on what I’ve learnt. Rich’s prides itself on innovation, so I was surprised that much of the NPD from exhibitors at IBIE consisted of licensing brands, including the forthcoming Golden Compass film or children’s cartoon favourites. While such products do play a large part in keeping the sector fresh and generating sales, I couldn’t help but feel that some bakery companies need more true innovation, as opposed to reinvention, if they are to maintain consumer interest in an increasingly competitive marketplace.