Innovation meets collaboration

by Kimberlie Clyma
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2 Cargill
(From left) Chefs Pete Geoghegan, Janet Bourbon and Stephen Giunta use the Cargill Innovation Center's foodservice kitchen for in-house training as well as when working with customers.

Culinary expertise

As director of culinary, Giunta leads the nine-member culinary team at Cargill Protein. When he joined the company 15 years ago he was the first and only member of the culinary team.

“Many of our customers – most of the large retail and national chain accounts – were starting to add culinary departments. Cargill decided as a protein company, it would be valuable for us to have one as well,” Giunta says. “We started to look at what our capabilities were and what our customers were looking for. Then, we started to work with the customers to answer their questions to help them meet their goals.”

Not all members of the culinary team are based at the headquarters in Wichita – Giunta is based in Chicago – but all work on the same mission of providing customer support.

“Our culinary team collaborates with customers from all channels (retail, foodservice, food ingredients) to create protein offerings that delight consumers and grow our protein business,” Martin explains.

“As both customers and consumers become more interested in the development and story of their food, the role of the chef is growing,” Martin adds. “As experts in procuring, producing and enjoying food, our culinary team’s portfolio of knowledge and skill in global and local cooking has never been more in demand.”

Giunta’s portfolio of knowledge includes being one of 67 Certified Master Chefs in the US, previously serving as an associate professor at the Culinary Institute of America and even working as personal chef to former President Ronald Reagan during his years in the White House. Chef Janet Bourbon, senior strategic chef for foodservice, and Chef Pete Geoghegan, senior strategic chef for protein ingredients, both based in Wichita, also bring a wide array of culinary expertise to the Innovation Center.

“I used to work in chain restaurants as well as retail, foodservice, corporate dining, fine dining and catering,” Bourbon says. “We all bring in a lot of experience with our various backgrounds.”

“Corporate chefs have moved out of development kitchens and are now spokespeople for brands and companies, industry educators and food ambassadors and storytellers,” Martin says. “As customer and consumer desires and needs evolve, the role of the culinary professional also involves a learning component – where team members function as students in order to ensure their knowledge is on pace with a rapidly evolving food landscape. We’ve simply added new capabilities to our ongoing commitment to the development of gold standard protein products.”

These new capabilities at Cargill include working directly with retail and foodservice customers. New and existing customers come to the CIC to come up with new product ideas, further develop existing products and fine tune marketing, communication and branding messages.

“We have to be ready for any requests from the customer,” Geoghegan says. “It’s really important to look closely at their businesses. To find out who their customer is, to look closely at the trends and see how those trends will affect their business.

“We don’t only show them meat and poultry products. We tell them, ‘We’re here for you. We’re a resource for you.’”

Cargill’s culinary team members divide their time and expertise into three areas, according to Martin:

• “Developing protein products that drive growth and innovation for Cargill and our customers, working alongside the technical team and marketing and innovation team to bring new ideas to life while demonstrating industry leadership.

• “Working with customers to learn their needs, as well as showcasing new products in development that would provide solutions for their needs or the needs of their customers (the consumers).

• “Exploring consumer desires, trends and experiences in the marketplace. The culinary team participates in activities such as dine arounds, trend hunting and food treks to do this exploration work, which is a critical piece of the value they bring to Cargill and its customers.”

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