The food industry today, and the ice cream sector in particular, is known to be driven by fast-paced innovation. Simply stated, you innovate fast(!) or you lose out. In fact, being first to market can make or break your product’s and even your brand’s success, making speed to market one of the most critical skills to master for organizations around the world.
If most understand this principle by now, few are clear on how to go about actually improving their speed to market. In fact, to increase growth opportunities, many focus on working harder and quicker, not smarter. This usually results in overworked team members, additional operational complexity, costly mistakes, missed deadlines, and an inability to take on new opportunities or projects which can stall growth.
While that might still be the case, we at INNODELICE are founded on the core belief that, over and beyond competition, it is collaboration that will unlock greater growth opportunities. Hence, finding the right partners becomes the key to success.
Upon meeting TOPPING SOLUTIONS for the first time, and after collaborating with them on several projects, it became obvious to us that they would be a natural fit within our ecosystem. In a recent interview with Rob Hennis and Rachel Bliesner from TOPPING SOLUTIONS, we asked them to tell us more about their journey to success in the dessert inclusions industry. You can read more about their story below to decide if they could be the right partner for you.
Tell us a little about how your journey began and where the idea for TOPPING SOLUTIONS came from?
TOPPING SOLUTIONS was born in 2008. Originally based out of Portland, Oregon, the team started to grow little by little and now has a presence across the US, from Seattle to Florida, and parts of Canada as well.
During that time, the TOPPING SOLUTIONS service scope also grew, and we have since become a one stop shop for brands, operators and manufacturers looking to source ingredients and inclusions for the snack and dessert industry. In addition to sourcing ingredients for our customers, we can also outsource any requirements they have in the chopping, blending, kitting, or repacking space.
We have built relationships with over 50 manufacturers across the US, Canada and Brazil (including brands like Hersheys, Nestle, and Mars, as well as more niche vendors) which provides us with access to a wide range of ingredients and inclusions to suit every brand’s needs. If we don’t currently have an ingredient or inclusion that is needed by a customer, we can help them source it or create it.
What differentiates TOPPING SOLUTIONS?
All of our efforts and activities are based around the dessert and indulgent snacking space which means that there is nobody out there who has more collective knowledge, experience and connections within this space than us.
We spend a lot of time building quality relationships with all of our manufacturers and customers, and we are always confident that we are connecting our customers with the very best companies for their needs. Our customers are our primary priority and we work hard to understand their requirements based on which part of the supply chain they operate in.
For example, if they work in R&D, we know that it can be incredibly time consuming to search for each ingredient or inclusion from different suppliers, so we make sure that we shorten that time for them through consolidation of processes, ingredients and/or suppliers. This results in quicker lead times and makes the go-to-market process more seamless, all of which are key elements to creating a competitive advantage.
One of the most common misconceptions of working with an intermediary is that it will be more costly, however for our customers, that is often not the case. The reason for this being is that thanks to our purchasing power, going through TOPPING SOLUTIONS doesn't mean that it will be more expensive, in fact, in some cases, it can even be a more affordable option. If, however, we think that it would be better for a customer to work directly with a certain manufacturer, we will tell them. We won’t remain their intermediary if we think that another avenue makes more sense for them at that time.
What benefits do TOPPING SOLUTIONS customers derive from working with you?
There are many ways in which we work with customers that results in different benefits for them:
· The majority come to us to fuel their innovation pipeline. They can benefit from our large capacity to innovate in a way that is tailored specifically to their requirements. For example, when customers bring us in at the ideation and initial innovation stages, we are able to elevate their brainstorming and testing sessions by proposing ideas and providing samples to help them taste and see their ideas come to life. This gives them the ability to test their ideas, and/or generate new ones while accelerating the overall development process.
Lately, we have seen high demand for flavours like smores, salted caramel, and honeycomb, but sometimes customers are looking for a particular ingredient (format, size, flavour combination etc.) that doesn't exist yet. In such cases, our technological capabilities alongside our network of 50+ manufacturers and suppliers allow us to create it for them.
· Some customers also come to us to streamline their operations. Thanks to our extensive network and freight capabilities (including temperature-controlled trucks), we have the ability to support our customers on the logistics side by consolidating their ingredient purchases from one of our many locations across all 50 US states. If applicable, we can work with the customer to consolidate their processes and contacts with multiple suppliers, in order to make it easier and more efficient for them to manage.
· Many brands nowadays are looking towards reformulation in order to make their current products healthier. Projects such as sugar reduction, vegan alternatives, or the removal of artificial colourings and sweeteners, to name a few, are all projects that we are happy to help with.
· Cost improvement opportunities is another key area for our customers. Again, thanks to our purchasing power, we can often source the same item for less. We are always happy for our customers to leverage our network and reduce their costs.
· Finally, from a co-branding perspective, we are able to facilitate connections with other suppliers or bigger brands for customers so they can initiate conversations around licensing agreements.
In other words, we are happy for companies to involve us at any stage of their project, from conception to post-launch and reformulation.
What are your plans for the near future?
Our goal for the next couple of years will be focused on growth. Covid has given us the opportunity to explore new routes to market, categories, and even processes (i.e. at-home product sample testing) within the indulgence sector, so that is something we will be working more on as the year progresses.
Our primary markets in the US and Canada are strong but ever since Covid began, there has been a lot more interest from international markets as well, so that’s definitely something we would like to explore more of.
In what way would you ideally like to work with new partners?
What we find with our current customers is that we usually become an extension of their teams. This has worked really well for us so far in allowing us to provide the best option for each customer, so that is something we would ideally like to do with any new partners through the INNODELICE network.
As mentioned above, we will be looking towards other export markets in 2021 and beyond, so we are very open to conversations from companies outside the US and Canada.
Our focus on remaining flexible means that there really is no partner that we would not explore opportunities with, whether it be a manufacturer, supplier, brand, or retailer. We make it our priority to fully understand the difficulties and challenges that each partner may experience. This includes consolidation of products, high MOQ’s, and long lead times. We will make it our focus to help each individual customer with whichever one(s) they are struggling with.
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Founded by former executives in the Ice Cream industry, INNODELICE aims to create a worldwide ecosystem of solutions within the frozen dessert industry. Thanks to the relationships fostered by INNODELICE, manufacturers, brands, importers, distributors and suppliers can discover, buy and sell solutions to GROW their business. These solutions include co-manufactured and branded products as well as innovative and competitive ingredients, packaging and services. Our collaboration model generates lower costs and fewer risks for our participating partners while optimising their time to market. To learn more about INNODELICE, contact Nicolas MARIE (firstname.lastname@example.org), Andrea MONTREUIL (email@example.com) or visit www.innodelice.com.