PALOS VERDES, CA — In American food culture, snacking has never been more prevalent than it is today. It’s had a huge impact on snack food manufacturers, especially in how they go to market with new products.

During the BEMA 2024 annual convention, held June 28-July 1 in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, a panel of snack producers led by Dulcinea Freymoyer, VP of marketing for Reading Bakery Systems (RBS), discussed some of the biggest drivers for modern product development.

Panelists included Joe Amboyer, senior VP of operations for JTM Foods; Casey Young, director of R&D and food design for Conagra Brands; and Bill Quigg, president and CEO of Richmond Baking.

Despite evolving — and increasing — consumer demand for functional foods, taste still reigns supreme.

“It’s hard to not say that taste is the primary driver,” Young said. “People love good-tasting food.”

For Young, that means flavor delivery through shape and texture, supported by aroma and mouthfeel for a full eating experience.


Health and wellness is a strong secondary driver, Young said, and gluten-free is typically considered a health attribute for a variety of reasons. He has also seen popularity with keto-friendly products and snacks made with specialty grains and even grain-free ingredients.

The most important thing for snack manufacturers to remember about these two primary drivers is that they must not sacrifice one for the other.

Freymoyer said that for RBS, innovation around new pretzel shapes is helping snack producers add more value to the products they create.

Despite this increasingly complex landscape, oftentimes the simplest solutions can bring about the best change.

“It’s important for us to listen to our customers and consumers,” Amboyer said. “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.”

New innovation can come to life when a team gets back to the basics. Richmond Baking, which opened in 1855, still holds some of the bakery’s original recipe cards.

“Think about doing something that’s a little bit different. It doesn’t have to be huge. It just needs to be meaningful in a way that impacts a person’s life.” — Casey Young | director of R&D and food design | Conagra Brands


“There’s something to be said for simplicity,” Quigg said. “There’s real value in getting back to that, in remembering what butter tastes like in a cookie.”

To marry functionality and flavor and create products that consumers want, Young reminded attendees that small changes can make a big difference.

“Think about doing something that’s a little bit different,” Young said. “It doesn’t have to be huge. It just needs to be meaningful in a way that impacts a person’s life.”

And then there’s the notion of thinking more limitlessly.

“Open innovation is thinking about where your ideas come from,” Young said. “Spoiler alert: The best ideas might not come from within your four walls.”

That requires intentionality.

“I hardwire certain things into how I think about disruption or innovation,” Young continued. “That’s so I make sure I’m looking in my blind spots.”


Where can snack manufacturers find ideas? Young suggested four places: consumers, inventors/creators, employees, ingredient suppliers and social media.

“Relying on employees, bringing their ideas in, has a huge value of scale,” Amboyer said. “People want to be included and know they are part of the team. Take someone from maintenance and ask them to step back and talk about innovation for a while.”

Amboyer suggested participating in kaizen-style events to get multiple viewpoints in the room together.

In these ways, innovation comes out of the marketing-R&D-operations cycle to potentially disrupt the market.

It’s not a guarantee, but the panelists believed in failure as a springboard for innovation. Failing fast allows feedback and direction to happen as quickly as possible.

“I don’t believe there’s such thing as a ‘bad’ idea,” Amboyer said. “When you can get everybody in the room and hear all the different ideas, you know what you can take out or what you can bridge off of. That’s when the brainstorming gets really involved. It gets people thinking and you can see different angles.”

Thinking outside the box while at the same time getting back to basics can bring about innovation in the snack space. It’s all about knowing where to look and when to listen.