Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Product Development

Subscribe to our free E-Newsletter, "Agri-News" (formerly RTW This Week)Agri-News
This Week
 Product Development is one of the most rewarding aspects of the food processing business. The development of new products is an integral part of the manufacturing and commercial process and can take a great deal of company resources. Therefore, the most important part of the process is planning.

The recipe for your product gives you only a start on the product that is to eventually reach the marketplace. Product development is a logical process and requires financial, marketing, management and production considerations.

The Development Process

Basic steps or stages in developing new products are:

  • idea stage
  • formula development
  • sensory evaluation
  • taste paneling
  • consumer sampling
  • scale-up
  • packaging
  • shelf life studies
  • production run
  • test marketing
  • commercialization
Idea Stage
The idea stage involves dreaming and making every effort to determine the products consumers will purchase and continue to purchase. The following questions need to be answered: Does the product satisfy a consumer need? Will it be acceptable to consumers, wholesalers and retailers alike? Is it unique? Do you have the production technology to develop the product? Do you have the marketing skills to sell the product? What products does it replace or compete against? Will it return a profit?

Formula Development
Food scientists can solve shelf life and food safety problems of new products. They address questions such as: Is the browning reaction (a chemical reaction between ingredients causing a brownish surface color) a problem and, if so, can it be solved? Is light a factor in product or quality deterioration? Can texture or mouth-feel be improved? Is rancidity a problem? Will bacteria, moulds, yeasts or pathogens be a concern?

On preliminary screening, some ideas may not be selected for further development based on cost/price, availability of raw ingredients, market information, and the packaging and equipment needed. If it appears the product or products are cost effective, a prototype product can be prepared and the package and process designed.

In choosing products for formula development product safety, commercial ingredients, and additives and preservatives should be considered.

Product safety
You should assess food safety risks associated with the product and process, and include methods of controlling the risks in the formulation or process.

Preservation and processing methods used to assure food safety include:
  • heating/cooking treatments
  • cooling/freezing
  • water activity adjustment (drying, salting, addition of sugar)
  • controlling the presence of oxygen
  • pH (acidity) adjustment
  • the use of preservatives
Commercial Ingredients
Ingredients chosen for commercial production must have consistent quality to ensure the same in the final product. For example, the characteristics of lemon juice may change with the maturity and freshness of lemons and may alter the flavor and/or acidification of the product. Where long term consistency is needed, the use of a standardized commercially available lemon juice or lemon powder is advisable.

In commercializing a home recipe, the grade of raw ingredients must be considered from both a cost and quality viewpoint. For example, in developing a formulation for jams and jellies the quality of the raw ingredients, the use of commercial pectin and acidifying agents is considered to provide a standardized consistent product.

In choosing commercial ingredients, you are presented with quality characteristics and functions not available to the home cook. Technical assistance from suppliers, universities, research stations and food research centres can help you select the ingredients most appropriate for your product.

Consideration should also be given to the use of semi-prepared ingredients. Compare the overall cost of preparing these yourself (raw ingredient, storage, processing equipment, processing losses, labor, packaging) to the cost of purchasing them semi-prepared. Some semi-prepared raw ingredients include peeled vegetables, prepared pie shells, frozen diced onions and prepared salad dressings.

Fool-proof commercial production is the ultimate goal of every processor. Therefore, minimizing the number of individual ingredients that must be weighed and added should be considered in product development. Dry ingredients may be purchased pre-blended and unitized. Rather than weighing and adding different spices, additives, milk powder and starch, you simply add one unit to your batch along with the other required ingredients. These suppliers purchase in bulk. If your order is a reasonable size, it may be cost effective to purchase ingredients in this manner. Most commercial ingredient suppliers provide samples for testing and test production free of charge. This allows you to experiment to see which suppliers’ claims are true for your product.

Additives and Preservatives
A food additive is an ingredient that is added to foods to help processing, preservation or quality improvement. Additives should not be used to disguise faulty or inferior manufacturing processes or to conceal damage or spoilage. Only the minimum amount of an additive necessary to achieve desired results should be used.

While consumers are somewhat wary of food additives, it is important to recognize that additives are used to help maintain safety and quality. Regulations govern the levels of additives and the specific foods to which each can be added. These are strictly regulated and are established at levels proven to be safe for consumption. All additives must appear in the list of ingredients on the label.

Sensory Evaluation
Sensory evaluation should run concurrently with formula development. This is the use of the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing) to evaluate a product. In product development, sensory evaluation allows you to measure response to the product as it is eaten. The goal is to develop a product that has the appearance, flavor and texture that the target consumer likes.

Trained panels are conducted under controlled conditions to identify specific quality attributes
(e.g. sweetness). This is done as you assess the use of different ingredients during product development, substituting an ingredient, or assessing the stability of the product quality over a period of time (shelf-life study).

Consumer sensory evaluation trials can be done on prototypes or products ready for launch. This helps you gauge how close your product meets consumer expectations. Consumer panels should be made up of at least 50 consumers and be as representative as possible of the final target market.

Consumer sampling is often neglected by small food processors, but it can give valuable information about the product’s potential success. A simple and inexpensive method of consumer testing is to present your product to consumers in its ready-to-eat state at a farmers’ market. Shoppers can be given a sample to taste and a questionnaire about the new product to fill out on-site. Sometimes the market will allow you to sample and at the same time have the product available for sale. Actual sales after tasting reinforce questionnaire results. For instance, if 100 people say they will purchase but only five purchase the product, there may be some question about the truthfulness of the answers. Written waivers should be used to obtain permission and to ensure that tasters do not have allergies to any of your ingredients.

The Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Food Processing Development Centre in Leduc has a sensory evaluation service available.

Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development
Food Processing Development Centre

Scale-up can be difficult. When scaling up your product from the kitchen to the commercial production level, the quality of the product can change. This makes adjustments to the formulation and processing operations necessary. The changes taking place during scale-up are unique for every product. Some examples of common adjustments for cooked foods include adjusting the amount of added water to compensate for more or less evaporation during cooking and adjusting the cooking time to assure that the proper temperature is reached to cook and thicken a starch.

Where a choice of storage methods exists for a product, each option should be evaluated with regard to processing and storage equipment requirements, consumer acceptance, food safety and quality, product shelf life, distribution channels and retail display space. How your product is stored may be prescribed by regulations.

The intended storage temperature (room temperature, chilled or frozen) affects the choice of ingredients and packaging materials in product development. For example, chemically modified starches, which provide freeze-thaw stability and prevent separation, are used for thickening gravies or pie fillings that are stored frozen.

There are an endless number of considerations in scaling up a formulation. The assistance of a food technologist, scientist or professional home economist may help you choose the proper ingredients and processing methods to withstand the stresses of large-scale production.

Packaging is especially important because the package often sells a new product. Consumers want colorful, attractive and conveniently packaged products. Packaging should not impart flavor to the product or react chemically with the food. It should protect the product from physical, chemical and microbiological sources of deterioration. Packaging (shape, size etc.) should be compatible with the packaging equipment you are using and needs to be economical.

Shelf Life Studies
Shelf life is extremely important because a processor must know how long a new product keeps under a variety of temperatures and environmental conditions. The time period that a product retains prime quality (shelf life) is influenced by processing methods, storage and distribution temperatures, contact with oxygen and light, the use of preservatives and more. Products with a shelf life of less than 90 days must have a best before date on the label. For products with a longer shelf life it is desirable to know how long the product retains its prime quality under normal and adverse storage conditions to assure the customer purchases and consumes a high quality product. Statements such as “See bottom of container for best before date” or “Sell by” dates ensure that the best quality product reaches the consumer. The shelf life should be established through testing prior to launching a product. The complexity of shelf life trials depends on the type of product and the desired shelf life. Advice and assistance from food scientists at this point can be useful.

Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development
Food Processing Development Centre

Production Run
Production includes making plans for a production line to manufacture the product. Do not arrange a full-scale production line until after successfully test marketing a new product. Many entrepreneurs rent facilities or have their products co-packed by an existing plant for test marketing.

Processing controls must be established to ensure consistent quality during production. Likewise, quality control procedures must be developed to determine if the standards are being met during production. They also signal when to take corrective action to prevent economic losses due to deviations or to ensure product safety.

Test Marketing
Test marketing for small processors means introducing a new product into a limited area, such as the town or city you reside in or a suburb of the city. It is important to select a site with a population made up of many ethnic groups and income levels. If the product fails, another product can be tried. If the product succeeds, it can be distributed in stages to progressively larger areas (local area, regional, provincial and national).

Commercialization is the next step and involves the start-up of full production and the implementation of the marketing plan. At this stage you launch your product to the target market. Be sure that you have made arrangements for a production facility and that you can produce enough product to meet demand.

There are services available through Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development and from private agencies to assist you in the development of your product. Generally speaking, there will be a fee for these services. For information on services that are available contact an Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development New Venture Coach at 310-FARM (3276).

Other Documents in the Series

  Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Preface
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Introduction
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Starting Out
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Business Planning
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Business Considerations
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Food Processing Regulations
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Facilities
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Product Development - Current Document
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Processing and Packaging Equipment
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Packaging and Labeling
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Distribution and Sales
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Promotion
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Financing
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Sources of Assistance
Business Basics for Alberta Food Processors - Additional Resources
Share via
For more information about the content of this document, contact Kathy Bosse.
This document is maintained by Jennifer Rutter.
This information published to the web on June 24, 2005.
Last Reviewed/Revised on April 19, 2018.