Flavor Trends: A Dive Into Our Research & Development

June 6, 2019 at 02:13pm

Ever wonder what it’s like to have the world’s most delicious job? Dale Conoscenti and Rob Douglas, members of the Rhino Foods’ Research and Development team, recently gave us a look into their day-to-day. R & D touches every aspect of business at Rhino, but the goal is always to stay laser-focused on creating ice cream flavor concepts with the best quality, taste, and integrity possible.

Let’s cut right to the chase: what flavor concepts does Rhino have in production right now?

“For 2019, we have a brown butter blondie with a maple caramel swirl, a spiced rum cake, and the s’mores flavor, which incorporates all these different flavors and textures,” says Dale. “We also have peanut butter pie: a very old-fashioned, southern dessert type of peanut butter pie. It was made in the South in the summertime when peanuts were available.”

According to Rob, Rhino is working on six to a dozen ice cream flavor concepts at any given time. Once the flavors have been developed, they’re presented to customers. When that process is complete, an all-new cycle of development, trial, and presentation begins.

Brown Butter Blondie

Spiced Rum Cake

Peanut Butter Pie

With a spirit of collaboration at the core, this R&D team knows that forming real relationships with partners is crucial to developing innovative products. Both Dale (who has spent 11 years with Rhino, but over 20 years in the field) and Rob (14 years at Rhino and an additional 20 years in the field) take inspiration from customers, suppliers, and the broader world to create unique inclusions–and delicious–solutions.

“Product development is 75-80% customer driven,” says Rob, about the R & D process. “A customer might have a request for  a specific kind of cookie dough or cake flavor. Then, we’ll take some time to really try to talk their lingo and pick out what they’re really looking for. If I’m trying to create what’s in your brain, I need to know a little bit more. Do we want it to be buttery? Dense? Fudgey?”

Believe it or not, one person’s cookie dough doesn’t always equal another. “We become detectives,” says Dale. “What I’ve learned over my lifetime of product development is that the success you have is measured by the relationships that you have.” Rob adds, “In this job, you work with everyone from sales to manufacturing. If you build those relationships, everything runs more smoothly.”

If you ask about their typical day, it becomes clear that there really isn’t one.  “The essence of my job is to develop new products for customers, but we also have our own capabilities that we want to push forward,” says Dale. “I also have a great understanding of equipment so, oftentimes, I will travel to customers to help them figure out how to use their equipment to produce a specific ice cream flavor with our products.”

Rob’s typical day starts with checking what’s trending on the internet and considering how he can bring new concepts to Rhino. Then, on to producing samples for a customer, working on cost savings, or finding new ingredients. He also does a lot of work on the floor to improve the process.

“We present flavor concepts to customers as, ‘Here’s an idea to help spark something new,’ because many clients have their own R&D department”  Rob continues. “Hopefully it’s more collaborative and our ideas help to trigger deeper conversation.”

These days, the world moves fast, and flavor recipes are no exception. While food trends are cyclical, the innovation happens at lightning pace, and it’s up to Rob and Dale to stay ahead of it all. For example, Rob wasn’t surprised when restaurants started getting into nostalgic foods, like whoopie pies. He had already created that flavor years earlier. Staying ahead of the trends is what he’s good at, but it takes work.

“I keep an eye on the food industry and restaurant trend magazines,” says Rob. “I’m always on the internet looking at what’s hot. Plus, our suppliers are already thinking way ahead of the game, so I’ll read their new flavors and something will spark based on what I’ve seen and what our customers might be interested in.”

Ask questions, keep learning, form connections, and enjoy every bite – that’s advice we can get behind.