From soups to sauces and even veggies, packaged foods are part of most of my eating occasions. If I couldn’t depend on Italian pasta sauce, canned olives, or even (dare I say it) the occasional bag of crispy, crunchy potato chips, I’d be in serious trouble. Throughout my summer here at Campbell, I spent a lot of time learning about our foods, which made me wonder how the company decides which products to develop and what goes into making them. To understand more about the process behind creating the products on our shelves, I sat down with Emily Steinberg, Ph.D., a product developer and food scientist at Campbell Soup Company.
Consumer Insights Drive Product Innovation
Product development starts with a consumer insight. Sometimes this is a pain point for the consumer, like trying to get their kids to eat more vegetables at dinner. Other times, the insight is a consumer’s desire for a specific experience, like enjoying a perfectly crunchy, buttery cookie with a lot of texture and flavor. “Every project needs to be driven by consumer research,” Dr. Steinberg explains. “It should never be just one person in the room deciding which products to launch.” The marketing team profiles the target consumer based on these insights and identifies product innovation ideas that may help them. Once the group identifies a consumer insight and a broad product concept, they pull together a larger team.
(Cross-Functional) Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
A cross-functional team made up of experts from culinary, nutrition, regulatory, marketing, product development, packaging, engineering, process safety and others create and test product ideas. Chefs and product developers kick off the process with recipe testing. Meanwhile, marketing, nutrition, product development and regulatory work to develop guardrails for the products. These guardrails set parameters related to ingredients, nutritional targets, and potential claims that could appear on packaging. Every decision ties back to the consumers’ values and the challenges they face at meal and snack times.
The team also comes together for formula review, which includes addressing any potential manufacturing challenges. For example, if we want to use a unique ingredient, we test it in our pilot plant to make sure it can work with our current equipment. Engineers and individuals from the packaging department are instrumental throughout formula review, as they have extensive knowledge about the manufacturing process. “Working with a variety of individuals with different perspectives and expertise helps us problem solve and ultimately create great products,” Dr. Steinberg says. “For example, we relied heavily on our internal experts during the development of Campbell's® Condensed Vegetable Cooking Soups to get the right amount of vegetable servings while creating a product that families can use to make delicious and balanced recipes.”
Testing, 1, 2, 3…
The development process requires a lot of testing and modification to get the recipes just right. Once the team feels they have a strong product concept, they do a test run in the pilot plant and work with consumers to further refine the recipe. “We rely on co-design groups made up of our target consumers to give us feedback on our product concepts,” explains Dr. Steinberg. “Without this feedback, we’re only relying on theoretical data and we need real, qualitative feedback from consumers to make sure we’re getting it right.” The team continues to modify and test the recipe based on feedback from the co-design groups until they land on the final product.
Campbell tests the final product to ensure it meets quality and safety specifications and that they can produce it on a larger scale. Once it passes these tests, they manufacture in smaller quantities so that product developers can monitor various aspects of the product, like the color of the product, sodium levels, and more. Next, large-scale manufacturing begins. “We track specifications to ensure we produce a consistent product and can make any last-minute changes if necessary,” Dr. Steinberg says. Finally, our products ship to retailers where our consumers find them on shelves. “It is a great feeling of accomplishment to see a product that we developed from a consumer insight make it to the stores for everyone to enjoy!”
As Dr. Steinberg explained, the process of product development requires a team of experts working together to solve a consumer need. The process may seem pretty straightforward, but it requires considerable testing and modification to ensure that Campbell produces the best foods possible. Next time you grab a new can of soup or snack bag, think of the months of work, dedication and expertise that went into making it!
Emma’s BioThis summer, Emma worked as a Nutrition Intern for the Global Nutrition department at Campbell. Her internship experience exposed her to diverse experiences and projects, such as those focused on nutrition communication and data analytics. She will carry over her experience at Campbell’s into her senior year at Penn State as she completes a B.S. in Nutritional Sciences. In the future, Emma hopes to work in the industry or in a community setting to increase knowledge about and access to healthy foods.
Emily’s BioDr. Emily Steinberg is a food scientist at Campbell. She was hired as a product developer within their Breakthrough Innovation Group, working on everything but soup then moved into soup product development. Emily loves every aspect of the development process, especially working with our consumers to develop delicious products that can make their lives easier and healthier. When she is not at work she loves to spend time outdoors with her husband Tyler and 3-year-old daughter Rory.