I am so excited about the upcoming Expo West Trade show in Anaheim, California– I can’t wait to walk the miles of aisles all teeming with entrepreneurs who are eager and hopeful about bringing their ideas to market. I love hearing their stories, their successes and their regrets about the path they took to get to where they are- and hearing about their challenges ahead! As a food scientist my job is to help entrepreneurs navigate the confusing food industry waters and figure out the right path and the right order of steps within that path! The more stories of confusion I hear, the more chapters I can add to my E-book The Food Business Tool-Kit for entrepreneurs-How To Research, Develop and Produce A New Food Product to alleviate that confusion!
I want to share a common practice that many entrepreneurs partake in that not only is a waste of time and money but can lead to incorrect assumptions about the food product you want to bring to market. This practice involves trying to develop a product on your own at home without any professional supervision. I am not talking about super early stage creations-sure you can make a few fun batches that represent your “concept” and show it to your family and friends—get some feedback. But it needs to stop there! I have had many entrepreneurs tell me about the months they have spent trying to get their product “just right” and they are ready to go to a manufacturer and make a go for it. When I look at their formula I sadly shake my head and tell them they have a long way to go to make it “commercial ready”. Here are some of the common mistakes that entrepreneurs make when developing products from their home (without professional food science supervision!)
Not Using Industrial Ingredients- Unless you are working with extremely commodity ingredients (sugar, vegetable oil, salt and perhaps water) anything you get from the supermarket is not going to be the same ingredient used at the manufacturing plant. Even something simple like the organic gluten free flour from whole foods- will perform differently in production. When you start using more complicated ingredients like pureed fruit, spices and protein powders – The supermarket brands are not the same, not even close! Spices in the supermarket are not nearly as fresh as what the manufacturer made, fruit purees are often concentrated to various brix levels for consistency and and most protein powders on the market are blended with flavorings and other sweeteners. The solution here is to work with industrial ingredients only. You will have to track down the ingredient suppliers that sell to manufacturers, request samples and work with those ingredients.
Not Using a Proper Scale: I have some sad news… the $25 dollar scale you bought online is not accurate. It usually measures to the nearest gram and in production, those half grams and partial grams are important. Spices and other lightweight items that you weighed out with your inexpensive scale are going to be inaccurate. You may think you weighted out 1 gram of oregano, but it could just as easily have been 1.5, but you will never know because your scale only went out to the 1-gram accuracy. My advice is to spend $300-$500 on a good scale that goes out to the 100th decimal point. So your 1.53 gram of spice weighs out to exactly that.
Relying On Nutritional Information Provided On The Supermarket Label Ingredient: I already mentioned you should not be using supermarket ingredients but for those who are or did, they also tend to rely on that nutritional information on the label. That nutritional label has already been extrapolated down and rounded to match up with the serving size on the package. The FDA regulations have lots of rounding rules that can result in a teaspoon of spice having no calories when actually Oregano has 38 calories per 100 grams and its 9% protein, 69% carbohydrates and 42% fiber. But if you look at a label on a spice jar in the store- it will probably say zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero fiber. Yes, that may be the case for the tiny 3 gram serving that is recommended.
Not Knowing The Process: You can’t really develop a product if you don’t know how it will be ultimately processed. Unless you have millions of dollars and plan to build your own manufacturing plant and bring in special equipment from Italy- chances are the unique process you created by boiling, dehydrating, freezing, crumbling and adding back into your cake is just not going to fly at the manufacturing plant. Food manufacturers are not going to adapt their process to fit your idea unless you plan to pay for those adaptations. Your process needs to reflect the manufacturers process, not the other way around. I recommend that you find your manufacturer first- understand how they make the product and try to simulate your process to match theirs. This can be done by online research, checking out co-packer websites or simply networking and finding a local food scientist or food science university and asking the professors there for some assistance. Don’t assume that your method can be done in mass production (it probably can’t!)
Spending months perfecting your formula in your own kitchen is not an efficient use of time or funding. After a few initial basic prototypes that you show your family and friends, your next steps should be to either contact a food science consultant or find a manufacturer who can guide you through their processing steps so you understand how to create the product in a commercially viable way. If you hand over your homemade recipe with your own fruit concentrates and vanilla flavored protein powder from whole foods your co packer will probably tell you to recreate the formula so it can be made commercially. What does that mean though? It means follow the points I mention in this article.
Rachel Zemser is a food scientist who helps entrepreneurs bring their food products to market. Her website is www.alacarteconnections.com