Inspiring Culinary Creativity

Bob Liebler, vice president of research and development for global toppings, creams and culinary solutions at Rich Products, in the Rich’s R&D Innovation Center. Photo: Heather Bellini

Rich Products is built on innovation.

Its journey began 75 years ago, when Bob Rich Sr. created the world’s first non-dairy whipped topping from the soya bean.

Dubbed the miracle cream, Rich’s Whip Topping was a breakthrough innovation, and the company hasn’t slowed down since.

Bob Liebler, MBA ’95, the company’s vice president of research and development for global toppings, creams and culinary solutions, says the pace of change in the market has accelerated over the years, and Rich’s knows it has to keep up.

“Innovation is at the heart of what we do,” he says. “We need to keep our skills sharp, to not simply rely on what’s been effective in the past.”

Rich Products CEO Richard Ferranti, EMBA ’97, met with James Lemoine, assistant professor of organization and human resources in the UB School of Management, to discuss how to take Rich’s innovation to the next level.

Lemoine proposed conducting research at Rich’s to lay the groundwork for a custom program, developed by CLOE, to help the global food company on the way to its next big breakthrough.

Based on the findings and input from Rich’s, CLOE built a program for the company’s research and development (R&D) leadership team, leveraging the expertise of several UB School of Management faculty members to present current research addressing an engaging and relevant topic.

“One exercise illustrated how we unintentionally  put constraints on ourselves, and how when we recognize and loosen these constraints, we free ourselves up to be more creative,” says Liebler. “It was an eye-opening experience for the entire team that got us out of our comfort zone—it really helped us challenge our self-imposed boundaries.”

Blue-Sky time is one initiative Rich’s has rolled out as a result of the CLOE innovation program. It’s an opportunity for their R&D scientists and engineers to be creative—to work on an idea, try a new ingredient or just create something new.

Their investment in creativity is paying off—the company has already brought new products to market as a result of the unstructured work in Blue-Sky time.

Rich’s innovation program may have begun in Buffalo, but it’s going global. The company’s R&D team has locations in nine countries outside the  U.S., which often face similar innovation challenges. The tools, techniques and research the team has been leveraging in the U.S. will be shared with their R&D leaders around the world.

In the end, Liebler says the program has been a success because they didn’t take a cookie-cutter approach.

“The key to an effective innovation program is to target it to your organization’s culture, goals and people,” says Liebler. “CLOE brought us the expertise, experience and practical tools to provide targeted training for us. One size doesn’t fit all.”

Custom Programs

Based on the specific needs of your organization and industry best practices, CLOE experts create specialized programs to drive innovation, creativity and effectiveness.