It marks the end of one year and heralds the beginning of a new one, and in those reflective moments, bright lights cast rays across the month before them. With the promise of a new decade ahead of it, this December is nearly blinding—the allure of innovation, of new products and new initiatives, is so close I can almost reach my hand out to touch them.
But when it comes to predicting those innovations and products, my mind grinds to a halt. The shimmer briefly dims. Luckily, I have industry movers and shakers to turn to when I feel the glow of freshness begin to wane.
Stacey Kinkaid, US Foods’ Vice President of Product Development and Innovation, has always felt this pull toward innovating—toward making people like me thrum with excitement over the latest in industry-shaking trends. Having spent over 20 years in roles surrounding food product development in both the retail and foodservice sectors, Stacey immediately sets all systems back to shimmer.
“Throughout my career, I’ve held various roles within the product development team, from product management to quality assurance, all in support of bringing on-trend products to market that serve customers’ needs,” she begins.
Her position with US Foods, which she came to after spending the majority of her career in retail product development, focuses more on helping restaurateurs address opportunities for innovation and labor-saving practices.
“At US Foods, I am currently responsible for driving the product innovation platform, and I oversee the Product Innovation and Commercialization teams, which includes our culinary, packaging, and sustainable product teams,” Stacey explains.
One such innovative platform is the US Foods Scoop™, the distributor’s exclusive product-innovation launch that inspires new culinary visions across the foodservice sector.
“Since Scoop’s inception, we’ve introduced over 500 products...”
- Stacey Kinkaid, Vice President of Product Development and Innovation, US Foods
“Scoop is an important part of the US Foods brand promise and embodies our commitment to helping our customers make it each and every day,” she relates, diving into how the food scene, with its constant changes, is driven by competition, diversity, lifestyle needs, and more. “People expect more from restaurant menus now. And this was the impetus for developing Scoop eight years ago: to help chefs and operators keep up with the ever-evolving food landscape.”
In order to make this seemingly insurmountable task a reality, the US Foods Product Development team works closely with partners in Category Management, Food Safety and Quality, as well as manufacturers. This team then utilizes research, insights, and on-trend ideas, turning an amalgamation of supplier, customer, and associate concepts into selected products. Next, the company works in conjunction with manufacturers to design and launch those finalized products that are unique to the market.
“Through Scoop, we equip customers with the latest trend-driven ingredients and products that offer the ultimate back-of-house convenience. These items are designed to keep menus on-pulse—bringing in new diners and keeping existing diners coming back for more,” Stacey remarks. “Since Scoop’s inception, we’ve introduced over 500 products, including differentiated high-quality essentials, sustainably-sourced items, labor-saving solutions, global specialties, and more. From prototype to plant trials to launch, we bring over 60 new Scoop products to market each year.”
Keeping its finger on the pulse of shifting trends is precisely why I knew catching up with US Foods would grant me access to the encapsulation of all the new industry transformations that occurred in 2019—and all that is to come in 2020.
“We rely on internal and external insights to generate the right on-trend ideas. These ideas may come from detailed food trend analytics, which we discover through working with our suppliers and customers, or by hitting the streets and taking in the flavors of a completely different neighborhood or country. When it comes to product development, we aren’t shy about exploring food from different regions, close or far from home,” Stacey says.
“Through Scoop, we equip customers with the latest trend-driven ingredients and products that offer the ultimate back-of-house convenience. These items are designed to keep menus on-pulse—bringing in new diners and keeping existing diners coming back for more.”
One such trend that continues to dominate the foodservice sector is the consumer craving for global flavors. As a millennial, I can attest to my generation’s love for flavors that gravitate toward the adventurous. It’s a fun space to occupy as an eater and lover of food, and for Stacey and her team, it’s a fun space to evolve and grow foodie trends.
“In the case of our most recent product launch, we took a ‘Global Discovery Made Easy,’ approach, showcasing products with Latin American, Asian, and Middle Eastern influences,” Stacey notes.
To do this, US Foods collaborated with nationally-recognized chefs: Chef Diana Dávila, Chef and Owner of Mi Tocaya Antojeria; Chef Thai Dang, Executive Chef and Owner of HaiSous; and Chef Sameh Wadi, Executive Chef and Owner of World Street Kitchen.
“Today’s diners expect diverse, authentic food experiences. Chef Dávila, Chef Dang, and Chef Wadi shared incredibly helpful insights and feedback to ensure the Scoop products delivered on authenticity,” Stacey emphasizes. “By focusing our efforts on items our operators would normally not have the time, resources, or expertise to create on their own, we have delivered turnkey solutions they can add to their menu with confidence.”
But as 2019 wanes and 2020 rises on the horizon, both me, a trade news writer, and industry members alike are on the hunt for the next sparkling beacon of innovation, the next food trend to take over the nation. Perhaps most telling about those who operate in fresh is this idea: We can celebrate the success of a year only at the cost of thinking about what’s to come in the next.
“As I look to 2020, I see a lot of exciting opportunities in familiar product offerings that incorporate an unexpected ingredient. A simple way to jazz up any fresh produce staple is to give it a flavor twist, like drizzling sweet potatoes with tahini butter or topping harissa-glazed carrots with pistachios,” Stacey notes. “Bottom line, as a foodservice operator, it’s important for US Foods to develop products that are versatile and easily integrated into a menu.”
Just as Stacey—and the rest of the industry—turn their eyes to 2020, the draw of a new decade shines bright with promise. The hopeful shimmer I began 2019 with has not dimmed. If anything, it continues to get brighter.