The food world is full of unlikely combinations. For example, a few years ago a friend told me about her new odd “combo” obsession. I tried it, and consequently spent more than a handful of evenings eating spoonfuls of peanut butter dipped in vanilla yogurt.

I’m not sure how she stumbled upon the combination, but then again does anyone really know the origins of strange and addictive mixtures such as M&Ms shaken into a bag of popcorn? Or hot pepper flakes sprinkled into a jar of pickles?

While fielding this month’s cover story, I met Request Foods’ Manager of Product Development Mike Bader, a man who was able to provide some insight.

Bader is one of seven culinary-trained chefs at the Holland, Mich.-based contract processor. Here, the product development team works with some of the biggest names in the industry.

Bader says the chefs came up with a way to keep the ideas flowing for fresh product formulations.

“We do a monthly new product presentation at the company where the product development chefs are challenged, once a month, to show something to sales that is out of left field,” Bader says. “It tends to follow two camps. Either it’s a new spin on an old favorite, or it’s the opportunity for these guys to test a really crazy breakfast lasagna or something sort of ‘out there.’

“The audience is our sales team. And they might look at it and laugh. They might say, ‘You guys come on, that’s just too wacky!’ But a lot of the time they’ll look at it and say, ‘OK, it’s a very bizarre idea, but I love that sauce. And what if we took that sauce and put it with the other meal.’”

Bader went on to say that while whole entrées aren’t always winners, components often are adapted for use elsewhere. And, he adds, Request is lucky enough to be working with customers willing to give these new flavors and concepts a try.

“I’m expecting the wider acceptance of flavors and ingredients by consumers, that’s going to be a continuing trend and people’s tastes are just going to get broader and broader,” he continues. “It’s really an exciting time to be in the industry because of the heightened consumer awareness of new flavors and ingredients out there.”