At El Mercado de Los Angeles on a blazing hot July day a small group of clients, Zeus Jones colleagues and I spooned mouthfuls of pickled pork rinds, jicama, cucumber, tortilla chips and Asian peanuts into our mouths.
Thanks to Chamoy and hot sauce this jumbled set of ingredients was colored an atomic red, each bite a layered cacophony of flavors alternating between tangy, spicy, crunchy, sweet, and refreshing.
Before we could even make a dent in our massive bag of Tostilocos, a plate arrived littered with watermelon, pineapple, and cucumber that had been doused with lime, salt, and chile. You wouldn’t believe how this magic trio of ingredients transforms verdant cucumber into a sweet, refreshing treat.
In fact, those three words were the reason behind this whole day: You wouldn’t believe.
Some things you have to experience to understand. That’s why we connected with Bill Esparza, James Beard award-winning food journalist and foremost expert in Los Angeles’ formidable Mexican community. In partnership with Bill, we arranged a day-long food tour to show our Nestlé clients a side of their own city that they had never experienced. The explicit goal for the day was to understand the uniqueness of Mexican cuisine. What we learned fundamentally altered the course of product innovation on the project.
Somewhere between drinking a fermented rice and cactus drink you can only get at one hole-in-the-wall café outside of southern Mexico, and eating a smoked milk paleta at Mateo’s, we realized that dessert and indulgent flavors are constructed in a fundamentally different way for the Mexican palette. Considering that we were working on a candy project designed to connect with Mexican consumers, I can’t understate the importance of this discovery.
“I honestly believe we could only have arrived at the level of insight that we did from direct experience. Tasting the food.”
Hearing directly from chefs, bakery owners, customers, and creators. There are depths of knowledge you can’t arrive at via a food blog. You can’t experience these flavors second hand or understand the nuance of passion in a particular detail through a screen.
Cultural inspiration and insight was only one of the benefits that came from the food tour. Driving around L.A. in a white panel van tasting things well outside of our comfort zone galvanized and bonded the team. We had a common frame of inspiration and reference for the rest of the project. We launched into the project with a confidence that could only come from deep understanding of the problem we were trying to solve.
Three weeks later we went in front of retailers with a whole new set of candy concepts.
A year later, one of those products won the Innovation award at the Sweets and Snacks show.
The L.A. food tour wasn’t the first excursion like this and it certainly wasn’t the last. We’ve done the same for multiple other food innovation projects, retail innovation, and fashion. I can’t wait for the next tour, be it food-related or otherwise. I love learning alongside our clients in the real world and seeing the joy that comes from true inspiration.
So, how can we get you inspired? What do you need to learn about? Your tour is just one email away.