The Making of a New Product: Grainful Steel Cut Sides Tomato Risotto

December 15, 2015

An interview with Jan Pajerski, Grainful president.

In case you missed it, Grainful Steel Cut Sides were named a Pick of the Week for Phil's Food Reviews We caught up with Jan Pajerski, Grainful president, and found out a lot more about how this innovative new product was born. 

What inspired you to create your new product? Is there a particular niche or segment of the market you were focusing on? 

Invention – or in this case inspiration – is sometimes the result of necessity. With Grainful, co-founder and chef Jeannine Sacco was working on a batch of homemade jambalaya when she realized she was out of rice to complete the dish. Ever resourceful, Sacco substituted steel cut oats…and, just like the next morning’s leftovers, the rest was history.

Inspiration is also driven by our Grainful mission to create delicious, nourishing but convenient food options for people that love the warm feeling that only comes from slow-cooked, hearty food. Our “niche” is pretty straightforward – we want to satiate the appetite for gluten-free, non-GMO foods with meals and sides that anyone would love. Our target market also appreciates that nutritionally wholesome food that’s quick to fix is tough to find…we didn’t cut corners developing the line, so consumers can provide a great meal or side when dinner preparation time is a tough luxury to afford. 

What makes your product different and able to stand out against similar ones? How important has differentiation been in developing this product?

There is the initial piqued interest of enjoying steel cut oats outside of breakfast time! When developing our Grainful meals and sides, complementing the robust, natural properties of steel cut oats was key. Bringing them to the lunch or dinner table meant highlighting nutritional goodness with bold flavor profiles including Jambalaya, Madras Curry and many more.

With Grainful, standing out from other frozen entrée or side options at the market means turning the package around to see the ingredients – notice the hardest words to pronounce on the package are simply some of the natural spices we use!

Differentiation in development was a delicate balance of the “art and science” of food. Chef Sacco always stresses, “I am a chef, not a scientist. I make real food that tastes great and it happens to be convenient.”

What was the process of designing your package, and how do you feel the final result has impacted perceptions of your product? 

We went through a packaging revamp this summer for our frozen line and made some big changes to the older design. We decided on a new look that we would execute for all our product lines so everything is consistently branded. We made these changes based on feedback from the market, our consumers and our team’s ideas.

Overall, we wanted our packaging to be very clean and clear/transparent for the consumer. Our goals were to make the packaging stand out on the shelves by using bright colors on a clean background, highlight the delicious food with large glamour shots and clearly communicate what the products are and what attributes they have. We then went through multiple design phases before landing on the perfect look for both product lines.

When developing packaging, we wanted to eliminate any “perception” of Grainful and let the natural ingredients speak for themselves. With our dry sides, we have included transparent packaging that highlights the natural, individual ingredients being used. With our frozen entrees, we have stressed real imagery of our products adorning the packaging. We are also very proud of our nutritionals, so we created an oat design on the front of the frozen packaging calling out the protein, fiber and calories in each entrée. 

Grainful packaging also incorporates additional approvals on nutritional information including 100 percent whole grain, non-GMO, gluten-free and more. Consumers are savvy to what they serve their families, and we stress transparency in promoting how wholesome Grainful really is.

Due to the fact that we are very transparent in our labeling; people trust us and know that what they are eating is healthy and delicious. Consumers can clearly see our certifications, and a look at the back shows them how clean our ingredients are how nutritious the product is. The color palette and layout is also clear and concise. We make things as easy as we can for the consumer and we think this is something many people value. 

Does your product have relevant health attributes? What are they? 

Absolutely! Grainful steel cut oat-based sides and entrees are naturally nutritious, we’ve just made them more accessible, not only on store shelves, but elevating them with “brinner” (breakfast for dinner) flavor profiles. Our products are clearly labeled 100 percent whole grain, non-GMO verified and certified gluten-free, when applicable.

In addition, Grainful lines are high in fiber and protein. We’ve also kept the ingredients in our products natural and easy-to-pronounce.

What sustainability efforts have you made with your product/packaging?

Frozen: Our cartons are 100% recyclable and compostable. Our trays are 100% recyclable and over 90% of the material is derived from renewable resources.

We are committed to always bringing the best to our consumers and having green packaging aligns with that promise. In order to ensure this, Grainful chose suppliers for both the trays and cartons that are certified by the Sustainable Forestry Institute (SFI).

Sides: We are currently researching and looking into different types of sustainable packaging that is out there. We strive to use a 100% recyclable and compostable bag in the future. 

Our steel cut oat manufacturer had put a lot of time and money into its Sustainable Grower Program. This is designed to help their farmers track and improve in different areas of sustainability across their entire operation, including crops, finances, food safety, and other concerns.

They also recently put together a Sustainable Mill Program for four of their mills. They are working on tracking and creating metrics related to water, energy and waste reduction. The mill also has a recycling program that sends food waste to compost, donations and feed while using the landfill as a last resort option. 

Through creating a new product, what would you say were the most difficult parts of the process and what came the easiest? 

In our experience, the most difficult part of the process is ensuring that at every step of the way we look at things from the perspective of the end-consumer. Anyone in the business of creating and developing new products knows how important the end-consumer is; however, putting this knowledge into practice is difficult due to the biases that are inherent in our role as the product creators/developers.

The blinders can come on very quickly because we passionately believe in what we’re doing. Consequently, we’ve developed objective validation steps to ensure that everything about the product—concept, category, packaging, attributes, nutritional information, descriptions, instructions, web and social media support, etc.—is driven by the needs of the end-consumer. 

The part of the process that comes easiest to the team is creating great tasting food—the most important part of culinary development. Creating great tasting food is easy as we have an extremely talented chef leading product development and the entire team is passionate about cuisine and loves to eat. Our favorite part of the process is our initial in-house taste testing as we get to sample the amazing creations that come out of our development kitchen.

Anything you would change if you were starting from scratch again?

I don’t necessarily like looking at things in terms of what we would change if we were starting from scratch; we did the best we could with the information we had at the time. We are constantly learning new things about the development process and we put this knowledge to use immediately. One of the key insights we gained was the importance of the end-consumer perspective, which has been incorporated in every aspect of our development process. A second fundamental insight that’s really improved our overall development process is taking sourcing and manufacturing into consideration early in the culinary development—making it on the stovetop doesn’t necessarily mean you can make it at scale.

Besides your product, what's one out on the market that you admire?

This is a difficult question as there are so many great products that we use on a daily basis at home. I’ve never been a huge fan of sweet snacks, so EPIC protein bars and Kind’s “Strong & KIND” savory bars really fit the bill when I’m on the go and want great tasting snacks that provide good nutrition.