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Bringing Back a Cohesive Mealtime

Jason Henderson, VP of Product Innovation, Captain D's
Sarah St.Jules
February 26th, 2014
Captain D’s is known for its high quality products, affordable prices and top-notch customer service. When a customer is looking for a meal that will stretch their dollar, provide them with variety and superior food, they know that they can go to Captain D’s. Jason Henderson, the VP of Product Innovation, began his career with degree in Fisheries and Aquaculture followed by a degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Jason is passionate about his role at Captain D’s, and with his drive and creative abilities, it’s no wonder that this restaurant is able to provide high performing service, with exceptional food and pricing.

4 Questions with Jason Henderson

1. How does your team generate new ideas?
I strongly believe in open sourcing, and our ideas come from everywhere. As an example, last year, we put into concept more than 1000 different ideas that actually go in front of our guests. More than half of those we actually developed. Whether it be a new dish or description, we look to have a thumbs up or down from our customers. I also like to cast a wide net, and I talk to a lot of internal people from both the top, and bottom. Our vendor community also has a lot of people who are heavyweights when it comes to ideation, and we like to hear what they have to say. I don’t hold any sources for ideas off limits. However, our biggest decision maker is our guest. I like to implement seasonality, providing the freshest ingredients that are growing each month, and our customers are letting us know that this is a trend and something they are interested in.

2. How do you spot trends? What resources does your team use to spot trends and consumer insights?
There are probably three different ways that I spot trends. The first is making sure I stay current in the industry. That means networking, attending conferences and speaking with others. Secondly, and probably the most paramount way, is through our guests. They are of a certain demographic, and we know very well who they are. We know that they don’t want anything super trendy; they want southern comfort, cornmeal breaded food. Thirdly, after working in the industry for the last 15 years, I’ve collected a radar on what works and what doesn’t. I have certain systems that I’ve put in place that helps all the pieces of our puzzle come together.

3. What makes an innovative culture? How do you create a culture of innovation?
I think our culture of innovation begins with how we generate ideas; I let everyone give ideas. They may not be in product development, but they can still have an idea that will be amazing. It’s also important for me to spend some of my week answering all of our customers who send in comments and questions. We also like to make work fun. We have biweekly marketing meetings where people can present their ideas. During these meetings we have fun prizes to dole out, such as I will cook dinner for the person with the best idea.

4. Looking to the future, how will Captain D’s continue to be a leader in innovation?
One of our big pushes this year is our grill. With this implementation, we will have the same type of equipment in every restaurant. We’re leaping forward to meet a guest that wants to eat better food, that’s better for them. We’re also going to stick with our pillars of value and variety. Even in a fast paced environment, we don’t focus on the ‘grab-n-go.’ We want to bring mealtime back. We want to make it so you and a family member or friend can eat together. We want to improve on what we can, and we want to maintain a quality of product. As an example, we don’t press or form any of our fish. We find that other companies that do that turn its fish into unnatural shapes, and that isn’t what we want to do. It’s all about quality food.
References: captainds, captainds