How to accelerate your food product development




2 May 2023


Whether you’re part of a multi-national company or start up, navigating new product development can be tricky. With so many things to consider, it can feel like jumping through a never-ending series of hoops. But by working through a few fundamental questions in advance, you’ll be better prepared for the challenges ahead. Let’s get started.


What do you want to make?


This may seem a bit basic. And it is. But having a clear vision for your product is important. If you’re working with a product developer, it will create a tighter project brief which, in turn, will lead to a more organised team and clearer desired output. Information on key ingredients, nutritional targets, desired claims, ideal shelf life and packaging format can all help to steer developments, making the journey much smoother from start to finish. 


And if you don’t have a clear idea yet – don’t worry! We can help you brainstorm concepts via on-site or virtual ideation sessions. If you’re struggling to visualise your concept, you can also take advantage of our rapid prototyping service which gives you a physical prototype to hold in your hands in a matter of weeks. 

Does your idea suit the market?


Market research can provide vital insights at key stages of the development process. Initially, it can help identify gaps in the market and highlight what tends consumers are looking for, giving you an idea of where to focus your efforts. Once you have your product concept, further research will identify opportunities that will make it shine on shelf. 




Do you have a unique selling point?


With so much noise in an ever-growing industry, it’s important to have a product that stands out from the crowd. You only need to look at plant-based milks to see why this is so relevant. Not so long ago, these products were few and far between but now – thanks to ethical and environmental concerns – some people consider the category to be saturated. From pea, oat and rice to hemp and soy, there’s truly something for everyone, making it very difficult for a new product to find a strong enough point of difference to grab consumer attention.


That’s not to say you can’t find a fresh perspective. You can, for instance, develop a clean label alternative to a classic product. Include functional ingredients with a ‘good for you’ benefit. Use sustainable ingredients and practices to create a ‘good for the world’ platform. Or disrupt the market with a completely unique product.


Yet, although you may want to tick all these boxes, be warned – this can cause complications further down the line. You may, for example, have chosen high-cost ingredients that push up your price point or selected a packaging format that reduces shelf life or designed a product with limited processing options. For this reason, you may find it helpful to separate your product wish list into ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves.’

Do your ingredients match your USP?


Unsurprisingly, the specified ingredients can have a major impact on how you market your product, so you need to think about alignment. If you’re working on a sustainability platform, for instance, using repurposed food scraps to reduce food waste or making use of surplus wonky fruit and vegetables would make sense. But you also need to consider potential limitations of your chosen approach, such as the fact that while functional ingredients can help to support on-pack claims they must also comply with strict regulations set out by the UK government or the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) - so always check what is possible.


Similarly, a clean label declaration is undoubtedly popular with consumers, but you need to bear in mind that some established ingredients provide specific functionality that their natural counterparts lack, so product quality could be affected. 

Do your ingredients work for your product?


Your ingredient choice will ultimately impact flavour, texture, nutritional value and product cost. Even the size of your target market could be affected if the ingredients conflict with dietary preferences, such as those shaped by allergies or religious beliefs. 


While you may want to include new and exciting ingredients, it’s important to make sure they actually work within your product. We can help identify the best ingredients to meet your goals, using flavour characterisation, ingredient analysis and physical and structural characterisation where relevant.




How does your product taste?


Taste and texture are far and away the most important factors when it comes to new product development. If consumer expectations are not met – from purchase date right through to end of shelf life – they are unlikely to buy your product again.


Sensory analysis and understanding consumer acceptability throughout shelf life are key. And it doesn’t have to slow down the NPD process. Our team can stress test your products under specified storage conditions to provide sensory and analytical information over an accelerated time frame so you can identify changes in product quality and expected shelf life more quickly.




Can your packaging be both functional and innovative?


The basic role of packaging is to protect the product inside. It needs to safeguard product quality during transit and support your defined shelf life. Yet, packaging must also be attractive and informative.


Consumers are looking for new and innovative packaging and, inspired by growing environmental concern, many now have a special interest in sustainability. Familiar packaging with a sustainable edge can help bridge the gap between traditional packaging formats. Replacing glass bottles with lightweight plastic bottles, for instance, results in lower carbon emissions - but ensuring they are reusable, recyclable or compositable is key. Elsewhere, many manufacturers have removed the plastic film from products, opting instead for a picture of the product on the packaging which consumers can easily recycle.


When selecting packaging materials, it’s important to assess their physical characteristics to ensure they provide the right strength and barrier proprieties for your product. The last thing you want is for strong odours to permeate the pack and impact products, or for the shelf life to be drastically reduced and damage product quality. Our team can fully evaluate different packaging materials and help you find the best option for your product.




Is your label correct and compliant?

Product labelling is incredibly important as it’s the first thing consumers are drawn towards. Holding vital information such as claims, ingredients, allergen risks and, of course, your brand and product name, getting it right is vital. You need to be sure your label is factually correct and legally compliant. RSSL’s analytical team can substantiate on-pack claims, giving you piece of mind that the information can be trusted regardless of shelf life, processing and packaging.

Do you have adequate food safety measures in place?


Food safety is vital when preparing products for the mass market. Biological, chemical and physical hazards can be avoided by undertaking the relevant HACCP assessments and then putting detailed processing and quality control measures in place. Allergen management, authenticity testing, risk analysis and manufacturing systems all need to be considered depending upon the specific product. RSSL’s technical team can work with you to ensure both the consumer and your business are protected. By considering the ingredients, processing, packaging and target shelf life, we can help ensure your manufacturing process results in a product that is safe to eat, after every production run. 

Have you identified a co-manufacturer?


Although sourcing a manufacturer for the product may not be an issue for large food companies, smaller start-ups can find it difficult. That’s why it’s important to start the search for a co-manufacturer as early as possible. Each one may have different capabilities, such as available processing technologies, ingredient handling rules or minimum production run size. All of these factors need to be considered from the outset. Once a suitable site has been identified, your product development team can work alongside the co-manufacturer to run factory trials, ensuring your product meets expectations before starting full-scale production.


If the prospect of finding a suitable site is too challenging, RSSL’s team is here to help you identify the right partner for your needs. With links to both pilot facilities and co-manufacturers, we can be with you from benchtop and pilot scale trials right through to factory scale-up.




What about product costs?


Remember, that every step in the process will increase overall product costs, so you’ll need to carry out a full cost-analysis before development starts. It’s vital that after taking everything into account – from development, purchase of ingredients, testing requirements, manufacturing, packaging and transit as well as any specific sales and marketing requirements – your product is profitable and competitively priced.


Do you need expert Food R&D support for your new product innovation?

We can support your product through every stage of development and manufacturing. Take a look at how our R&D team can support your development journey here.

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