Catherine Proper, immediate past president of the Research Chefs Association, unveils new branding at the 20th annual conference in San Juan. 

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Consumers’ evolving expectations and preferences are driving demand for constant innovation. To keep pace, product developers must master the languages of culinary arts and food science, said Jason Behrends, Ph.D., president of the Research Chefs Association (RCA).

“We have to be bilingual in culinary arts and food science in order to move as quickly as possible because we’re living in a millennial world, and today what’s on the shelf may not be the same thing that’s on the shelf in six months or 12 months,” said Dr. Behrends, who also serves as the research and development director of Product Data Management Business Strategy at Tyson Foods, Inc., Springdale, Ark. “We have to develop products very quickly because our consumers want the new, exciting thing at all times.”

During its 20th annual conference and Culinology Expo, held March 14-17 in San Juan, the RCA unveiled a new mission, vision and branding, underscoring its position at the intersection of culinary arts and food science. The association includes more than 1,800 members across all aspects of the industry, including ingredient suppliers, restaurant chains, grocery retailers and consumer packaged goods companies.

Jason Behrends, Ph.D., president of the Research Chefs Association

“The evolution from 10, 15 years ago, where it was, ‘I’m a scientist, and that’s all I do,’ or, ‘I’m a chef, and that’s all I do,’ to that blend of a chef and scientist working together and understanding each other’s view and speaking the same language is really beneficial throughout the process of developing products,” Dr. Behrends said during an interview at the event.

From an employer perspective, a hybrid of chef and scientist is a more valuable addition to an R&D team, said Catherine Proper, immediate past president of the RCA and senor director of product development and quality assurance at Supervalu, Inc.

“I don’t want to have separate chefs and food scientists,” she said. “I want the two-for-one. I want the Culinologist. I want the person who has both skill sets.”

At the Culinology Expo on March 16, dozens of exhibitors showcased innovative products and formulations featuring trending flavors, ingredients and cuisines. The event offered inspiration for the hundreds of industry professionals in attendance who may be seeking customizable solutions in product development, said Chip Potter, executive director of the RCA The theme of the conference, “Stir it up,” reflects the notion.

Chip Potter, executive director of the RCA

“The straight line of innovation doesn’t exist anymore,” Potter said. “It’s left, right, up, down… and smart people are walking this show not so much to say, ‘I’m looking for a new cinnamon or a new oil,’ but ‘I’m looking for something that’s going to appeal to a particular trend or a particular demographic that I didn’t think of until I got here, and suddenly two ideas came together, and I’m going to go back on Monday and sit down with my R&D team and have a conversation about something different.’”

During the event, Food Business News, sister publication of MEAT+POULTRY, asked exhibitors about the trends guiding product development at their companies. Read on for five trends featured at the Culinology Expo.