Mike Lee, founded The Future Market — a conceptual, pop-up grocery store in NYC — so that everyone could have an audacious voice in the future of food and challenge the boundaries of what’s possible. Mike’s tenure in the food design and innovation space has spanned 10 years and a variety of companies like Chobani, PepsiCo, Chipotle, and many more. Getting Mike’s take on seasonality in the product development space was as explorative as we imagine actually being in one of his labs would be.


RELATED: Joaquín Simó on the Seasonal Ingredients Driving Beverage Innovation

Can you talk to us about seasonal product development? And the development of seasonals/LTOs?

Beta testing from a business perspective provides an amazing opportunity for brands to experiment more; it is a way of reducing risk while exploring more interesting ideas in food. Brands should behave as restaurants and be agile, using seasonals/LTOs as an extension, similar to how a restaurant has daily specials. Data gathering is an essential tool to get information on consumer preferences. With this, there are more chances for companies out there to surprise and delight consumers.

Limited time offers or seasonals is a way to test what is out there and any extreme ideas. In other words, treat it like a beta product. At Chobani, we started introducing savory as LTOs — introducing spices with olive oil or spices in yogurt. This type of positioning reduces the amount of expectation you have.

What trends are you seeing specifically with flavors/combinations?

Sea themed ingredients like seaweed, kelp, umami flavor — they offer nutritional benefits and unique flavor. There’s a global boom in sushi and Japanese food worldwide. There’s also a been a trend with fermentation, certain types can enrich an ingredient’s flavor. The botanical trend is holding strong and more categories are starting to explore botanical flavors. Mushrooms are also having a comeback given their nutritional value. Acidic to alkaline dies, charcoal ice-cream, and ice-cream with ash are a few other trends.

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Do you have any seasonality advice to offer to companies?

Find the right balance between market curation and experimentation. Don’t use just the same vanilla product and don’t be incremental, go a bit further off track. When looking for ideas, pay attention to a wider breath of inspiration, don’t do what others are doing. Look at what fashion trends are reflecting for example. The deeper you can get in the culture, the more it will get you to the right idea.

Younger consumers, like millennials, are constantly coming up with new things, like the Dorito taco shells. Taco bell is a great case study, they do a lot of LTOs and there’s a level of strangeness that they are good at.

When most folks think of seasonality it’s normally in preparation of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall; but when consumers, more specifically foodies, think of seasonality it is usually in anticipation of pumpkin spice lattes or breast cancer pink cookies. At Symrise we are constantly looking for ways to innovate and that means going beyond the scope of normal. It also means not only looking for inspiration within, but outside of the box — our box being the food and beverage space. To do that, we teamed up with Brand Genetics to interview eleven experts spanning several, very different industries to get their take on seasonality in hopes of guiding you on your path to being informed, inspired, and innovative.

The biggest takeaway from this series of interviews is that seasonality is all about novelty (think charcoal ice cream), flavor (pumpkin spice latte), functional benefit (plant-based everything), association (gingerbread cookies during Christmas), excitement (unicorn frappe), and priming (marketing). It is also a reflection of our world — weather, time of year, ingredients, locales, cultures, etc. Seasonality can be a good product development tool with the right balance of market curation and experimentation. At the same time, it can be expensive and hard to pull off without a healthy balance of change and stability.

This series is backed by our Seasonality Initiative where we help our customers develop pipelines of new concepts and flavor ideas for the seasons and major holidays. If you have questions or would like to learn more about our initiative please contact us.

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