This post is sponsored by TraceGains.

Karen Klansek has an expression she likes to use when it comes to manpower versus automation in her role as manager of supply chain quality assurance at Pinnacle Foods: “For so long as we require humans to do the work, we will manage humanity.”

Despite the efficiencies that automation and technology bring, Klansek says she never loses sight of the fact that human nature plays an important role in her behind-the-scenes world. Strong relationships with others, both inside and outside the company, create constructive business solutions, she says.

Klansek works in the dynamic, multifaceted world of food safety and quality assurance, where brand reputations, corporate success — and sometimes human health — hang in the balance. Specifically, she focuses on the food safety and quality of the ingredients Pinnacle sources from its suppliers.

Parsippany, N.J.-based Pinnacle Foods is the manufacturer of a growing array of brands, including Duncan Hines, Aunt Jemima and Birds Eye. (read more…)

On one of too-many-to-count recent cross country flights, I had the pleasure of reading entrepreneur/venture capitalist Peter Thiel’s great new book “Zero to One“. Among many topics of interest, I found his discussion of “path dependence” interesting and important for the restaurant industry to consider. Path dependence refers to the economic concept that our set of decisions in current time may be constrained by the decisions that we’ve made in the past. In other words, we’re following a pre-determined path that makes it impossible or at least difficult to take the proverbial less-beaten path. In reading Thiel’s discussion of path dependence, I thought about the problem of path dependence in the restaurant industry.

The decisions facing restaurant executives today are limited by decisions of the past. Take the area in which my company works the most: technology. I’ve yet to meet a restaurant IT executive who is thrilled with the technology landscape that he/she has inherited from his/her predecessor. (read more…)

Protein has become a buzz word in the food and beverage industry. It’s up there with gluten-free, non-GMO and all natural. Consumers crave it and brands are launching new products and re-branding existing SKUs to feature the protein claim more prominently on the front label. There are a variety of forces driving the growth of this category, two of the most influential being the increased awareness of the benefits of protein for satiety, weight management and muscle health, and the busy on-the-go lifestyles that are creating a demand for convenient meal replacements, particularly among millennials. Protein is an ingredient that is relevant to (almost) all age groups and consumer segments, which is one of the reasons for its popularity and widespread application.

The company I work for develops beverages and flavors, and we first hear about many trends — especially the more fringe ones — from the entrepreneurial companies we work with. (read more…)

How and where Americans shop for food is changing dramatically, according to The Hartman Group’s latest report, Food Shopping in America 2014. The report reveals the evolving shopping landscape of not only where people shop for food, but who is doing the shopping. As the lines between retail grocery channels grow ever thinner and the tussle for a share of America’s food dollars intensifies, consumers are faced with more choices than ever before.

No longer do consumers need to confine their food shopping to just one place. Instead, they can now selectively pick from a variety of different formats and outlets to meet their needs. Study results show that, on average, U.S. grocery buyers shop three channels per week, including visits to grocery, specialty, mass merchandise, club, convenience, dollar and online stores. This results in 15 visits a month with 52% shopping at two or more stores per trip. (read more…)

Technology now enables consumers to create their own customized supply chains and design products to meet their particular health goals, dietary desires and cultural values. This creates an interesting question for food retailers – how do you deliver this trend towards customization in a brick and mortar store?

At last month’s FMI Midwinter event in Miami, Anthony Flynn shared his story around the creation of YouBar, a customized nutrition bar company he founded in 2006 with his mother. Flynn began creating custom protein bars at home to meet his taste, health and allergy needs. He loved eating his unique bars so much he thought there would be a huge market for customized protein bars made freshly to customers’ own taste and nutrition needs.

Flynn believes the success of YouBar is due in part to the fact that millennials love customizing, and customize everything from apparel to music to news feeds. (read more…)