Professional Development

Developing Recipes for Brands

Developing recipes for consumer brands is different from creating and developing your own personal recipes. You are representing the brand, the product, and yourself. I’ve been developing recipes for a major brand for the last 10 years and have learned a lot along the way. Here are three things RDs should consider when developing recipes for consumer brands.

Brand: Just like preparing for a job interview, you should research and understand the brand. What does it stand for? What are its mission and values? Is it a healthful food company; a company striving to provide quick, everyday meals for their consumer; or a higher-end brand offering more gourmet products that add a culinary experience to its consumers’ lives? Is it focused on innovation, today’s top flavor trends, or the simple, everyday use of its products?

You can learn a lot about a company on its website, but you should go beyond reading the “About” page. Sign up for its e-mails, watch the news for new products and innovation, and follow it on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram to learn about its platform and brand attitude, new product development, as well as consumer campaigns.

Target: Figure out whom the brand is targeting with its products. Are its ads focused on athletes, moms, children, or students? Does it target home cooks or gourmet chefs? That will tell you a lot about how it expects its products to be used.

For example, moms likely are looking for quick meals with few ingredients and something they can get on the table in 30 minutes or less. If the company targets a more gourmet audience, it will expect something a little more complex, trendy, and indulgent.

Product: The brand may have multiple product lines, each one targeted to different consumers. Ensure you know the nuances of the products and how to best use them. Buy the products and experiment with them. Look at other recipes on the company’s website and on social media to get a feel for what’s expected.

Are the products developed so they can be quickly paired with other simple ingredients, or are they meant to be incorporated into recipes and meals or more complex dishes as ingredients?

Ask about the brand’s standards. Many brands aim to feature recipes that use 10 ingredients or fewer, can be prepared in less than 30 minutes, include mainstream ingredients and flavors, and have simple instructions. Companies typically love seeing their products used with other trendy ingredients, techniques, and serving ideas that will capture their audience’s attention while also making them relevant to today’s consumer.

Remember, the company’s product is the hero! When developing a recipe, make sure the product stands out. Any other ingredients should complement it, not hide or overwhelm it.

Visualize how you want the recipe and product to look in the final version. Offer suggestions or take a photo to submit with the recipe for the company’s consideration. Most brands employ their own stylist and photographer so the look and feel of their website and social media page is consistent, but a company likely will be open to your suggestions.

The brand often has very specific thoughts about its product and how it expects it to be used. While you can push the envelope slightly after you get to know the brand, it’s best to stick to its expectations. You can still surprise and delight the company; just follow its guidelines or you’ll find your recipe on the cutting room floor.

— Laura Ali, MS, RDN, LDN, is a food and nutrition communications professional, recipe developer, and brand ambassador for the StarKist Co. She loves learning about food, exploring how food has shaped our culture, and teaching people how to enjoy the food they eat. On weekends she can be found exploring local food shops, wineries, and walking trails with her husband.

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