Mann…We’re Curious! Behind the Scenes with Alex McCloskey, Director of New Product Development
COVER PHOTOS: Top Left (L-R) Ryan Leavitt, research technician | Cathy Joseph, research technologist – Right Photo (L-R) Rachael Hackbarth, director of research and development | Alex McCloskey, director of new product development | Susanne Klose, director of research and development
Have you ever wondered how new produce items appear on the shelves in your grocery store? We think you might be fascinated by what it takes to get something as seemingly simple as a broccoli floret or veggie slaw to your shopping cart. We went behind the scenes with Alex McCloskey, our director of new product development, and asked him a few questions. Here’s what we learned.
What do you do?
I have the coolest job in the company. I get to take our crazy ideas and turn them into real products that people can buy off the shelf. I am lucky enough to work with people from all parts of the organization and love that my job is so cross-functional. There are so many factors that go into developing a delicious, healthy product that our consumers love and a big part of what I do is make sure that we’re staying on course and creating things that our consumers will buy over and over again. It is always challenging but always fun.
How do new products come to life at Mann’s?
It’s quite a process! There is an endless stream of new product ideas that come from everywhere. We are constantly looking at food industry trends and data, social media trends, industry publications and are constantly listening to consumer feedback. We’re also trialing a “Bright Ideas Box” so that our own employees can share their new product ideas and be a part of that process with us.
The important part is making sure the ideas that we work on are creating products that not only fill a need in the market but that we can make those products consistently and affordably. Those ideas are vetted thoroughly by all of our team members (R&D, operations, finance, sales, marketing) to make sure that we can actually make this product and get it onto shelves looking and tasting great every time. We communicate like crazy, come up with creative approaches to problems and aren’t afraid to fail in the process.
We have the best team in the business and they are all essential to the creation of any of our new products.
Can you tell us anything about the science?
It’s one of the most interesting parts of my job and I learn more about it every day. All vegetables breathe differently – either by themselves or when mixed together or put in different packaging. We use tiny laser perforations in our bags to make sure that they are getting the right amount of oxygen so that they look fresh and taste amazing for their entire shelf life. Our R&D team sifts through mountains of data to create and constantly adjust settings. As seasons and growing regions change, so does the respiration of all of our products. The process is never-ending and always changing.
How long does it take for a product idea to come to reality?
Depending on the product or idea, it can be as quick as a couple months or take up to several years. Sometimes the product that seemed like the easiest to make becomes the hardest and others come together seamlessly. I can’t say it enough: the patience, persistence and creativity of our team is absolutely critical in making all of this happen.
How many ideas do you have? And how many turn into products?
There are literally thousands of ideas. We consider and research them all. Most end up not working for one reason or another but at the end of the day, we’re making at least 20 new products each year.
What’s your background?
I was born and raised in Monterey, CA. I worked in hospitality for years which is where I fell in love with food. I got my B.S. in Business at CSU Monterey Bay and then moved to Australia to do my MBA. I stayed there for three and a half years working for a health food company launching new products for cereals, snacks and UHT milks. My wife and I moved back home in 2016 and I have been at Mann’s ever since.
Thank you, Alex!
Readers, we hope you learned something new. Feel free to ask Alex a question OR let him know about products you would love to see in the produce department in the comments below – he’d love to hear from you.