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Rod Shokuhi: What is product development?

Rod Shokuhi: What is product development?

When looking at a concept, Rod Shokuhi asks himself a few questions before launching into product development. 

2020…What a start! Bushfires, an international pandemic, restaurant closures and toilet paper all kinda feel like a scene from Contagion with Matt Damon.

The multitude of global climates, trends and challenges we face everyday can paralyse businesses trying to think of a solution to get more business when the world is selling everyone tragedy, negativity and fear. Alas there is a solution! There always is, however more than often it is a question of who has the greatest capacity to adapt to an ever-changing climate.

So what’s all this got to do with product development? Well, it’s all about perception and throwing things at the wall until something sticks, metaphorically speaking. So when Raymond Capaldi took me on as his pastry chef to help develop sweet recipes and products for Wonder Pies, I knew it would be an opportunity to work with a group that has an ethos of doing things differently, but with a sense of nostalgia at its core.

When looking at a concept I want to develop for a particular group of palates to adapt to a particular climate, I ask a certain set of questions:

Who am I targeting and why will they want it?

This serves as a compass as it’s incredibly easy to get lost going down the creative rabbit hole and find yourself in “how did I get here?” land. An easy way to understand your target audience is to ask whom you can see eating your product and where do they live. For example, I wouldn’t decide to do an extensive range of viennoiserie made with the most expensive ingredients to sell at a premium price point to a group of people that can’t afford it. But creating a pastry, cookie or cake (for example) that uses affordable ingredients and is simply executed and inspired by a packet Arnott’s biscuit from the local supermarket will break through the first barrier of consumer conversions: Trust.

Once your customers trust who you are and understand the value you bring to them, they will align their beliefs with yours and turn interest into necessity. They need your product because they cannot get it anywhere else due to its bespoke nature, and they become loyal to your services because that’s exactly what they feel it does for them: it serves them. So when looking at the ‘who’ and the ‘why’, be sure to keep your ego in check and amplify the hospitable nature of the concept. Once I establish those questions I ask the last most crucial question for production:

How do I prepare it?

This step is the most vital when it comes to the actual work itself because if there is anything I have learned in almost 20 years of food preparation it’s this: there are a million recipes for a recipe. How many times have you heard the line, “…this is good but you should try my mum’s” or “this loaf of bread is good but…”? Those two words, “good, but” often dictate the end result and in the production world the end result is two things: difficulty and time.

We want to design a product that is both easy to produce and takes as little time to make as possible, with the best end result. For example, we will make a brownie recipe 10 times, making adjustments to quantities, cooking time, ingredients, mixing time, method of portioning into moulds/trays, roast the nuts/buy roasted nuts etc., then analyse the end result by asking more questions. What process can I remove to make production easier? What ingredient can I use instead to get a better result, and how will that save time?

I know that when I analyse a product, I induct everyone around me and feed them! Staff, customers – hell, even the neighbours. The more perspective and feedback I gain, the more colour there is in the canvas. What result do I look for? That sound someone makes when they eat something amazing. Funny, yes, but that feeling is what releases endorphins and that is the best result you can hope for. You also have to pay attention to their body language as that is often more truthful than what they say about it.

So, whether its developing old nostalgia through an Arnott’s biscuit or creating new nostalgia through developing a dessert experience that supports bushfires, like the Desserts for Difference campaign or a toilet roll cake by Darren Purchase following the coronavirus outbreak, you can be sure there is always something to develop.


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