Why F&B brands need a Test Kitchen partner: 6 Questions with Dana Speers

Your family, your best friend, even your boss spent the year of lockdown in the kitchen, baking something. But, even before making your own bread became the latest trend across all demographics, food & beverage brands were turning to recipe development experts to give F&B products life; recipes create an emotional or memorable connection between the consumer and food or beverage brand.

Dana Speers, Director of Operations, Creative and Culinary for Tag, oversees the Toronto-based Test Kitchen. She has more than 20 years of food media experience as a chef, food magazine editor, and a producer and director for the Food Network.

What is the difference between a test kitchen Chef and a restaurant chef?

Test Kitchens test to perfection. The most important difference between a Test Kitchen chef and a restaurant chef is that, – restaurant chefs build recipes by feel (they eyeball it) where Test Kitchen chefs measure every ingredient down to the gram. Test kitchen chefs have exceptional recipe writing skills as well. The benefit of a good Test Kitchen partner is that they create a recipe that can be easily duplicated, followed by the consumer, shared and repeated.

For F&B brands, what is the benefit of outsourcing recipe development rather than doing it in house?

It’s all about scale. Like any marketing function, it comes down to producing as much content as quickly as needed, on-brand. We are highly resourced and have a wider variety of culinary expertise and services from recipe development to copyediting, nutritional analysis, recipe auditing, food styling, photography, videography and F&B marketing. We offer sharable insight into the F&B market, trends, ideas, innovations – all accessible to our clients on-demand. Our Tag Toronto-based Test Kitchen has become the recipe development resource, the internal kitchen, for more than 800 Food & Beverage brands in North America.

What makes Tag’s Toronto-based Test Kitchen different?

We understand that you can find 20 different pasta brands on the shelf but when a brand offers an incredible recipe for each product, they will create a loyal customer. We are tuned into both sides of the equation – creating the recipe and marketing to the customer. We take a full-service approach to recipe development, by combining culinary expertise with marketing resources like full-scale social media and digital marketing services.

You’ve created a recipe. It is perfect. Now what?

Most of the recipes we develop are either photographed, incorporated into a video, or both. We offer our clients great value with bundled services such as “Full-Service Recipe Development,” which includes a test kitchen tested and approved recipe and a professional photo of that recipe. The photo of the recipe is shot by one of our photographers, styled by a food stylist and prop stylist and retouched by a photo retoucher. The video shot lists are written by a producer, storyboards are drawn by an illustrator and a videographer shoots and directs the live shoot in one of our studios. We even have a motion graphics and animation team in house.  And, in many cases the social media marketing team engages us to produce content to create engagement across social channels for our clients.

What do you take into consideration when creating a recipe, to make it popular for target consumers?

Many clients ask us to create a unique recipe style for their brand so we gather the required data and create a brand-specific Recipe Style Guide, a living breathing document that we update as needed over time. We lead the process with a detailed briefing document that includes all the required information for the recipe: seasonality, approved cooking methods, recipe style, and brand guidelines. Our test kitchen team uses this brief to create two written concepts for every recipe required. Some clients want us to use our extensive flavor and trends research to come up with concepts whiles others have unique brand requirements that we must follow. The fun part is becoming the culinary brand experts for all of our clients.

What is your favorite recipe?

It is impossible to narrow down just one favorite recipe but my favorite salad recipe is a combination of arugula, torn radicchio and endives, and thinly sliced raw artichokes drizzled in a homemade lemon balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkled with lots of salt and pepper. I finish the salad off with a generous portion of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Divine!

Tag’s Test Kitchen is a Toronto-based team of culinary experts and marketers, who work with international brands to engage consumers through recipe development by providing an end-to-end recipe solution for food and beverage brands.