The Flavour Mystery Explained: Part 1

05 December 2016

There’s something about the film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which really speaks to British culture. Sure, it’s got an unassuming working class hero, catchy songs, ever-lasting bubblegum and orange-faced Oompa-Loompas, but it’s more than that.

Ever since Britain stopped making stuff, as its workforce fled manufacturing for the service sector, something strange happened – the factory, once familiar, gained a certain nostalgic mystique. Now, these days, who knows what goes on in those mysterious giant sheds? Maybe there really are rivers of chocolate? What we don’t understand becomes magic.

I suspect Prince Charles is feeling the same vibe. He must be, because when he dropped into our stall at the Taste of the West Food Fair in Exeter this Summer, he had a burning question for us – ‘How do you put the flavour on your crisps?’

How indeed? It’s a fair question and it deserves a decent answer. The truth? We use fairies.

Nah, only kidding. Here then, in the spirit of Toto the dog pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz to reveal the real man behind the projection, is a little insight into how we at Burts put the flavour in our crisps… Of course, we’ll keep a little magic to ourselves, but let’s begin. Oh, there’s quite a lot to it, so we’re splitting this blog into Parts One and Two.

It starts with a bit of history …

Burts Chips HistoryToday at Burts, we currently have 18 different flavour products. Everything from our new & improved Firecracker Lobster to Guinness Toasted Cheddar and our award winning Thai Sweet Chilli Lentil Waves. On top of that we create limited edition flavours such as Mojito and Lamb Mint and Mango exclusively for Aldi. In 2016, the public’s desire for strong flavours have turned crisp-making into an increasingly sophisticated culinary affair.

But back in 1995 when the Burts journey began, things were a little simpler. Our founder Richard Burt, spent two years trying to figure out the profile of the perfect crisp. He taste-tested hundreds of different combinations of potato variety, thickness of cut, frying oils, cooking processes and flavourings. He was determined that Burts would be a premium crisp that stood out from the rest. Finally, in 1997, he launched Burts’ signature thick-cut style with three flavours – sea salt, no salt and mature cheese and onion. And then Burts’ little Mercedes sprinter van set off for the farm shops, delis and pubs of Devon and Cornwall to get the word out. We did pretty good.

That desire to make something that tasted better than the rest is still the Burts’ ethos today. A commitment to flavour is our defining trait and it even affects how we go about recruitment. Many of our staff consider themselves foodies because the truth is, we need that passion and those taste-driven skills to keep our standards up as we search far and wide for the new flavours the public demands.

The flavour journey starts then with having the right people.

The man with the battered passport

Burts Potato ChipsPeople like our Operations Director, John Joseph, who as the ‘Phileas Fogg’ of our company, travels far and wide investigating all the latest trends in snacking and flavor combinations as well all the manufacturing innovations the world has to offer. Nice job if you can get it!

And people like Rachel from Barbados who works in our New Product Development team, using her love of exotic spices to dream up new flavor infusions. They and many more play a key role in helping Burts generate ideas for new products. But when reading the present to predict the future there are pitfalls for the unwary.

The trick is to be able to tell the difference between a short-lived fad and a more prolonged trend. Given that it can take up to 2 years to bring a new product to market, if you call it wrong you might find that interest in your flavours has dried up by the time your product hits the shelves.

Test Yourself: TREND Versus FAD

Tweet us and let us know which one of the below flavours you think is more likely to be a fad?

A. Pulled Pork

B. Chilli-chocolate

C. Szechuan Chicken

Another pitfall is running ahead of the market and innovating too fast! In the USA, Korean-flavoured foods have become increasingly popular and they say what starts in America often ends up here. But is the UK consumer ready for them? While some people always want to try the next new thing, others like to stick with the old dependables and take more persuasion to change. Why not get in touch and tell us what you think the next big flavour trend will be?

Test Yourself: The ‘Risky New ‘versus the ‘Reliable Old’

You’re Head of Sales at Burts. What strategy do you think the company should adopt?

A. Keep pushing the taste envelope, with exotic new flavours

B. Stick with the big-selling classics

C. Go up-market with premium ingredients of familiar flavours

D. Drive towards healthier snack options

We’d love to hear your thoughts, click here to voice your opinion!
Burts Flavours

Next up … The Flavour Profile

Our new product and operations folks have pooled their knowledge of emerging trends come up with some great ideas. The Marketing team through people like Sas, Chrissie and Laura – massive food enthusiasts in their own right, have chipped in to, and they think there might be an untapped demand out there. The numbers look promising. But would these flavour ideas taste any good? Would they be practical to manufacture? It’s time to build a flavour brief and hand the reins over to the Food Technologists.

Simple versus Complex

Some flavours are relatively simple with a small set of ingredients. For example, no guesses for wondering what’s in Sea Salt and Crushed Peppercorns. But how spicy do you want them to be? A hint of warmth or a blast of hot air? Which flavour should hit the palette first? Salt or pepper? Other combinations may be too ambitious to be successfully recreated as a crisp seasoning. Or just plain disgusting. Chilli, Cream Cheese & Lime, anyone?

Test Yourself: Build a flavour journey

You want the Food Technologists in Seasoning to develop a prototype German Bratzwurst sausage, mustard, and sauerkraut-flavoured crisp product. You have to write them a brief. In what order should the flavours hit the mouth and what ingredients would you choose?

1. Sauerkraut – Classic, apple or spicy? Replace with horseradish?

2. Bratzwurst – Frankishe, Nurnberger or Rotewurst? Barbecued or Baked?

3. Mustard – English, French, German? Sweet and mild or hot and tarty?

Congratulations! You’ve written a brief, and now it’s time to let the seasoning experts take over, or as we like to call them, the Culinary Boffins. Their job is not only to figure out how to make the stuff and make it taste nice but how to make it on an industrial scale.

And to find that out, you’ll need to read part 2 of our Burts blog by clicking here!