If anyone has a finger on the pulse of food product development, it’s Maynard Kolskog (Cooking ’82, pictured above), judging by his new heat-and-eat bean dishes (pun intended).
This October, the Culinary Arts instructor and food researcher made a quiet entry into the growing market for healthy convenience food with 3 vacuum-packed products: spicy vegetarian red beans, pinto beans with Andouille sausage, and French lentils.
Sold under the label Beanourished – a brand developed as a capstone project by JR Shaw School of Business students – the dishes are available for purchase on campus in NAIT’s Retail Meat Store.
It’s the first time a product he developed has been sold at the polytechnic. “Sales have been very good and the feedback has been excellent,” says Kolskog.
Off the back burner
Until now, the Beanourished line simmered on the back burner for nearly 5 years. Its origins lie in a research project with Alberta Pulse Growers to produce a value-added, consumer-friendly product.
When not teaching, Kolskog refined and tested the recipes and developed a way to cook them so consumers need only open the bag (or not, if they choose to heat it sealed in water) and warm the contents on the stove or in the microwave.
“I thought there was something different and novel to them compared to what you can get in the store,” says Kolskog. “Even the quality of the product – there was nothing like this out there.”
Getting them “out there,” however, would wait. Teaching responsibilities and other food research projects intervened (Kolskog has developed everything from gluten-free pasta and muffins to vegan ice cream). But when the business school was looking for capstone projects for 2015-16, he saw an opportunity.
Then-students Maria Tagliente (Management ’14), Kevin Carthy (Management ’14), Jesse Koch (Management ’15) and Scott Fellnermayr (Management ’14) took the project from recipe to retail, investigating the market, gathering consumer feedback, and developing a marketing plan that leveraged everything from flavour to convenience to shelf life. (The University of Alberta has determined Beanourished will last 90 days in the fridge.)
For Kolskog, the students’ work offered a chance to see his creation come to light and validation that his market instincts were right. "It gave me confidence that this was a good product,” he says. “It’s tasty; it’s good for you. That was the whole idea behind it. People need to eat more pulses. It may as well taste good.”
The future of convenience food
Currently, Beanourished sells for $4 per package at the Retail Meat Store (which also stocks cheese made at NAIT as the result of a previous research project). Despite having limited shelf space, Professional Meatcutting and Merchandising chair Rob Povey (class of ’07) was pleased to stock the product. He was also sure of its quality.
“Maynard does his homework,” says Povey, who recalls instructors trying the bean dishes during development. “It was quite a while before … he was satisfied with the product and gave it his stamp of approval.”
Sales are growing, with about 100 packs moved so far – which Kolskog has been able to supply on his own. Knowing that higher volume will require recruiting help, possibly from Culinary Arts lab techs, he’s not pushing Beanourished outside of NAIT.
“If somebody did come along and say they had capacity in their plant to manufacture this kind of product, it might get to that,” he says. “But that isn’t the goal for me.”
It’s not outside the realm of possibility. A Trends on Trends report this March foresees healthy dishes as the future of heat-and-eat convenience food. “Millennials are dictating the future of the food industry thanks to their hunger for healthy, affordable eating experiences,” it notes. That future, estimates Euromonitor International, includes a global market worth US$1 trillion by 2017.
None of this, however, gets Kolskog’s pulse racing. He seems satisfied to see his idea making mealtime easier for staff and students (and visitors to campus) with a product that’s low in fat while high in iron, protein, fibre and, perhaps most importantly, flavour. And, for now, having the opportunity to create, problem-solve and fill (potentially lucrative) market niches, is enough.
“I don’t care if I ever see a dime from it,” says Kolskog of Beanourished. “It’s fun just putting the stuff together and selling. I get a huge kick out of that.”