McCormick has opened a new R&D centre in the UK

McCormick has opened a new R&D centre in the UK

Spice giant McCormick & Co. has opened a new R&D centre in the UK to serve Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In this month's just the answer interview, Dean Best talks to Anthony Palmer, general manager of company subsidiary Schwartz UK, to get a flavour of the plans.

just-food: How does this new R&D centre improve McCormick's existing ability to develop new products?

Palmer: The way that the centre has been built is on the back of the way that we run R&D in the US. It's all focused around what we call the Create IT process. It fast-tracks our development process. Effectively you can do in two days what perhaps would have taken six-to-eight weeks before. You can get everybody in the same place, thinking the same things, get things cooking, try things, bring that back into the concept room, re-work it based on how the flavours come out, send it into consumers in the sensory panel, see what they think and refine it. What we're investing in is speed-to-market to cut through a lot of areas where you waste time. With Create IT, we can moves things through very, very quickly to get to a point where we pretty much have a product that will work within consumer testing within two days.

just-food: What learnings have you brought over specifically from the US?

Palmer: The Create IT process is a US process. [It's] really getting a strong and fundamental sensory testing. We've enlarged our panel of consumers that come in to taste the developments that we're working on.

just-food: Should the trade expect a raft of new consumer products from this centre? Or will there be new flavours for your industrial and foodservice customers?

Palmer: It will go across all three sectors. Certainly, the plan is to have a pipeline of strong products coming out. That will both be from a flavour perspective and a format perspective.

just-food: McCormick has other centres in Australia and China. Have there been elements of those that have been shipped across to the UK?

Palmer: I think it's almost like a global learning as you go along. It started in the US, went out to Australia and China and came in, so really what we're doing is picking up the global learnings as you go along. At the core of it is Create IT, the NPD process. What this centre enables us to do in EMEA is really get to the heart of the consumer in the UK and in Europe and really develop products that are meeting those trends.

just-food: In the UK, ethnic food is now much more than Italian, Chinese and Indian cuisine now, isn't it.

Palmer: Absolutely. If you are looking at the ethnic trends over the last ten years, it's moved from Chinese and Indian. There is a real difference between mass-market trend and more niche-type trends. Malaysian is probably a niche trend. Will it be a big trend in five years? Who knows. If you look at where Thai food was eight, nine years ago and you look where it is today, it's very much a key part [of the ethnic food category]. North African trends are coming through when you look at couscous, tagines etc. We'd also say that there is a move due to the economy back into traditional English as well. Over 40% of people are using slow cookers every month. This move back into traditional English, casseroles etc, is very much a trend.

just-food: McCormick's global presence must be a key attribute in being able to tap into flavour trends.

Palmer: We probably have two key strengths. Number one, our sourcing of these herbs and spices. With our scale, we're really able to know the markets where we are sourcing from. The second area is the insight and making sure that the taste cues we are delivering for consumers fit the taste cues for a country. They do differ by country. The UK likes spicier food than in France, driven a lot by the Indian cuisine that has come through. With our R&D resource across Europe and across the world, we're able to leverage that and really make the most of it.

just-food: The rise of eating at home during the downturn must have benefited McCormick.

Palmer: From the perspective of herbs and spices and our packet mixes, absolutely. In mid-week you want a relatively easy meal to cook; at the weekend you want something slightly more complicated, which would be using our core herbs and spices, so that's absolutely in the heartland of where we are.

just-food: How exposed are you to the foodservice channel though?

Palmer: I can't go into the specifics of the percentages but we obviously have a strong foodservice business across Europe. We have a strong consumer business and then we have industrial customers as well. I think we're well-balanced, to be honest with you, to take the downturns and the upturns depending on the sector.

just-food: Investment in innovation can help companies add margin and absorb the volatility in commodity costs. Is successful innovation critical in these times of volatile input costs?

Palmer: The key thing that an innovation pipeline has to deliver is value to the consumer. Then it's the consumer's choice as to whether they are going to pay for that value. A successful innovation would do that. The key is putting consumer insight right at the heart of what you do. Across the board, we're seeing pressure on the commodity prices of herbs and spices. It's our job to manage that so that we continue to provide value for the consumer, while at the same time trying to manage the commodity costs within the business. Innovation plays a role in that, absolutely.