Before we delve into addressing the central question which is ‘what is the process of developing a new product’, we should first explain a little bit about what we mean by the term new product development.
This is a question we get asked very often by those who have not had any close involvement with the food and drinks industry.
New Product Development, or NPD as it is abbreviated to, is taking an idea, concept or a recipe to the marketplace as a finished, commercial product. Here at FoodBuzz Consulting, nothing gives us greater pleasure than being able to walk into a supermarket or follow social media and say, ‘We helped develop this product’ or ‘We were a part of this brand’s success story’.
However, we know developing a successful new product is by no means simple. When we start a project, we know it is important to be clear about the product characteristics and what needs to be achieved. Quite often our clients come to us with a very vague idea of a type of product they would like to introduce in the market. It is then up to us to work with that brand owner, to clarify their idea further, and understand the market trends and whether they are filling a perceived gap or consumer need in the market. We also need to know what kind of ingredients would be best suited for the application, what ingredients can or cannot be used (some brands have very strong ethos in terms of not using artificial sweeteners, or they may want to sell the product as organic for example). We then work through possible prototype recipes, creating multiple versions until we arrive at the perfect one which everyone agrees is the one that is ready to be scaled up for testing in a production facility.
This is just an illustration of the first step on the product development journey, but we believe it is a critical part. Every product needs a solid foundation at the beginning from which to then build the complete package for the product to go to launch.
There are many more steps involved from start to finish in developing a new product and this is what forms the NPD process.
Here is a list of all the steps that need to be carried out before a product is ready to be launched.
Stage 1: Project brief, scoping, evaluation and sign off
Stage 2: Ingredient sourcing
Stage 3: Kitchen/development work
Stage 4: Production trials
Stage 5: Commercial production
Now let’s look at each stage in a bit more detail.
Stage 1: Typically, during this stage a customer such as a brand owner would come to us with an idea for a new product. Sometimes this is just a general idea and needs etching out in much more detail. Sometimes it may be more developed, for example a customer might want to launch a high protein flavoured milk shake with a range of flavours. They may even know details such as the flavours; maybe salted caramel, cookies & cream, chocolate and strawberry. So, each project is special and different, and we would first get as much details at the start from the customer as possible. The key to meeting the customer’s requirements is to capture all the right information and agree it at the beginning of the project. We understand the idea or the product can often evolve over time, and goalposts may change but if the project is documented and agreed at the start, it serves as a point of reference to see how far things have moved and if they need to be realigned. It is much easier once the idea is clear, and concise, to put together recipes on paper and evaluate just how much work is involved. We can then assess what is the chargeable activity/pricing, and what are the timescales for completion of the various stages. Once all these details are agreed the project can then be signed off to progress.
Stage 2: This is a very important key step in the NPD process; sourcing the right kind of ingredients for the application. There are so many questions to be answered, it’s a full time job: does the recipe need acidity regulators, does the sugar have to be fair trade, does the vanilla have to be of a Madagascan origin, what is the best type of emulsifier to use to bind the water and fat together? Hopefully by now you get the idea and the level of expertise required to get this all right! This is where the technologist or consultant works closely with suppliers to ensure that the right ingredients are sourced at the right price before recipe work can commence. Suppliers are often leading the way in terms of innovative ingredients so it is important to tap into these trends so the customer benefits from our contacts and we can help source the best a better form/grade of an ingredient. One example might be a new type of red colour that is more robust under heat treatment and low pH conditions.
Stage 3: This is when all the action and fun starts. Kitchen or development work is creation of the prototype from the initial concept. This is usually carried out at our development facility using specialist equipment, such as a precision weighing balance, pH meter, refractometer, high shear mixer etc. Ingredients are weighed and added into a mixing bowl, blended together, lab pasteurised, cooled and bottled. Depending on the recipe complexity and customer’s requirements, this process can have many reiterations to arrive at the recipe that the customer is completely happy with. Importantly one which is likely to be stable, of the required quality, nutritional standards and meets the price point. However, it must be mentioned here, that the product which is developed in the NPD kitchen is by no means the full and final version. It is merely a starting point. The true test of the product is how it perform at the scale up to manufacturing.
Stage 4: This is the scale up stage. Factory trial is a very important part of the entire journey within the product development process. This is the stage when the brand owner can then be sure about the recipe they want to launch with or they may want to do a consumer test and it ensures a valid test of your product against factory processing, stability, shelf life and many more aspects. This is the point when only a skilled technologist or consultant will have the full knowledge be able to advise on all processing aspects. During a factory trial the client can oversee entire process starting from ingredients preparation and ending at the very end of production line where product is ready to meet the world.Stage 5: Commercial production is basically a larger size batch but with the refined recipe and process as a result of the production trial. By this time any issues arising from trials have been ironed out and the printed packaging is ready. This is the point when the client can once again oversee the entire production and collect the finished product at the end of the production run. Product in its shelf ready form is then is loaded on to pallets or a client specified alternative format which ensures it is suitable for shipment and then your new product is born and is basically ready to meet the end consumer.
The BREXIT debate keeps returning to the food and drink sector with concerns that range from Welsh lamb being subjected to unsustainable tariffs if exported through food imports not getting in whilst the term ‘chlorinated chicken’ is raised as a threat from the USA should we be forced to have a trade deal.
So, will we starve? No, but we will pay more for our food and perhaps not have access to some until new commercial arrangements come in if we have a no-deal.
Why? Because no-deal means both tariffs and delays and whilst those are not insurmountable problems it does mean companies will take the view that until there is certainty, they will not risk produce being delayed or priced out of the market.
The real problem is the hidden issue of costs; the weaker currency combined with tariffs makes getting ingredients, packaging and labour increasingly difficult. We know of businesses closing because they can’t get staff at the right money and their input costs are already rising due to weak currency. Add a tariff or a load of admin work and business become unviable. Remember, supermarkets have driven costs and prices down over the last couple of decades so there is not the profit to absorb extra costs.
Surely, we can grow more ourselves? The biggest problems are the animal feeds, fruits and drinks that people assume are produced here but are actually produced in Europe as outsourcing is cheaper.
To make milk we need soya (to feed cows) and that comes from either eastern-Europe or south-Americas. We could substitute with the likes of home-grown peas and beans, but we don’t even have the processing capacity to convert these into cow-cake in the short-term.
Generally, we employ over 50% non-UK nationals to work in food, drink and agriculture. Sadly, thanks to the 30%+ devaluation these people have had a perceived wage cut, so understandably are either not arriving or even going back to their home countries. Plus, the general feeling of not be welcome anymore thanks to Brexit encourages them to leave.
Chicken, be it cheap chicken from the USA (the chlorination is to reduce the threat of food poisoning from birds that have been very-intensively reared) to the higher cost of home-grown chicken because the imports or costs of protein such as soya are all in the debate. In short, we will pay more because some costs will go up and already have thanks to weaker currency. Chicken is a largest single cost item in most households shopping baskets as it is a large source of protein. The issues are complicated but in-essence if you don’t pay the right price for your food you will get a sub-standard product that has not respected animal welfare standards but you will also run the risk of making it impossible for UK farmers to compete and they will very quickly stop producing and that will make us even more vulnerable to imports and the risk of not producing our own food.
In short; BREXIT makes food more expensive, more vulnerable to market forces, reduces our ability to plan and produce sustainable foods ourselves and reduces our export opportunities. That scares off investment and people who will avoid the risks of being employed or invested in food and drink. Is that a good thing?