As R&D staffs continue to be limited in time and resources, they look to outside sources for product development assistance.

When developing flavors for new beverages, one flavor company has moved beyond bench top work to a scale-up laboratory that helps improve the chance for a formulation to be commercially viable.

Robertet Flavors, Piscataway, N.J., has equipped its scale-up laboratory with equipment such as a carbonator, an HTST unit and a UHT unit, to help approximate actual commercial processing conditions. They also have support equipment—such as mixers, pumps, and tanks—that measure up to commercial standards. To ensure consistency and high service levels worldwide, Robertet has installed identical carbonation equipment at its Grasse, France location.

“In order to assess their effect on flavor and make sure our flavors taste right, we must simulate commercial processes,” says Stephen Wolf, director of flavor applications. “Product must be consistent, with each bottle being the same. In the scale-up laboratory we come as close to commercial manufacturing as possible, and we follow GMPs.”

Laboratory pasteurizing systems capable of HTST and UHT thermal processing are useful for dairy and juice-based beverages.

Bottling Samples Quickly

When creating a new beverage, it helps to know its base, acidity, sweeteners, and active ingredients, as well as processing requirements—such as chemical preservation or the need for thermal processing.

“For instance, Robertet has thousands of blueberry flavors to select from. At the bench top we initially screen out those that don't work,” explains Wolf. “Then, we take the most viable flavors to the scale-up lab. Since the ideal degree of carbonation varies from flavor to flavor, a particular blueberry flavor might have more 'lift,' with a higher level of carbonation, while this might not work with a lower level. When a customer specifies a particular level of carbonation, it can be difficult to correctly identify and formulate with the optimal flavor on the bench top. With our carbonation unit, these complexities are easily mastered.”

Carbonated beverages bottled at the benchtop are done manually. With the addition of a carbonation unit, Robertet can now automatically carbonate and bottle a beverage sample as one unit. In addition, bottling is much quicker, since the unit can handle two to three 12-oz bottles per minute. The unit is precise to .01 volumes of carbon dioxide, and allows researchers to make modifications very quickly, Wolf says.

A UHT unit pasteurizes shelf stable and refrigerated milk and milk-type beverages.

Pilot plant equipment speeds beverage bottling.
HTST processing is used for higher-acid beverages like juice and fruit flavored beverages. Robertet has two units from MicroThermics, Inc., Raleigh. The Bantam-IS miniature processing system performs HTST pasteurization, capable of temperatures between 150-250°F. It heats in a single stage by a self-contained, electronically controlled hot water source. The portable unit can be rolled into place. The UHT equipment was custom designed to be used with the Bantam as the preheater. The UHT Module has a final heater, a bank of hold tubes, a cooler and a viscous product outlet.

“In this design, the Bantam serves as a pre-heater for the UHT Module,” says David Miles, vice president, MicroThermics. The Bantam 1-S pre-heater range is 150°-250° F, and the final heater range is 220°-300° F. “The first step heats the product gently to reduce burn-on. It also simulates regenerative heating used in production, which conserves a high percentage of energy.” The UHT Module also has a variety of hold tubes for precise control. The Bantam and the UHT unit are modular so that Robertet can use them in many different ways, and they have the option of adding more accessories and other modules in the future.

The Importance of Flexibility

The equipment can be configured in different ways to lend flexibility to the operations. The scale-up equipment produces a larger quantity of samples than the bench top method in the equivalent time. With the scale-up equipment, the company can process one gallon, or about 12 bottles each, of two or three flavors. With the HTST and the UHT units, researchers must know the processor's time/temperature requirements because flavor reactions vary according to these factors.

The UHT unit is useful for protein beverages, as well as dairy-based beverages and juice products. Many processors are going beyond the chocolate and vanilla soy beverages currently on the market, which is a simple matter of flavoring with cocoa powder and vanilla extract. “Now they are trying complex flavors, such as berry or orange, that are more volatile. It would not be possible to determine which flavors will succeed without the scale-up lab,” Wolf states.

“Other new beverages are based on rice, almond and oat proteins for people allergic to soy. We have to ensure that the flavors for them don't contain allergens, while still meeting the desired flavor impact after processing.”

Coffee creamers are another challenge that requires the use of the scale-up laboratory equipment, because the flavor impact must be high while the thermal process used is intense. In addition, there are many different formulations involved, including dairy or non-dairy bases, and those that include fat or are fat free.

The HTST equipment thermally processes juices, other high acid beverages, and refrigerated dairy products. “Customers are not asking for simple beverages anymore, like an orange flavored drink,” Wolf says. “They want more complex beverages, like calamansi with vitamins and herbs.”

“Fortifying with Vitamins A, C and E, the antioxidants, involves more than simply adding a mix of vitamins. We work with vitamin premix companies and customers who do bioavailability studies after processing. With herbs or extracts, we use masking flavors, or we develop flavor around the herb. For example, if it's a compounded cranberry flavor, we leave out the astringency if there is an astringent aspect already present in the accompanying herb.”

“Working in close partnership with our customers ensures selection of a flavor that will work in their formulation and under their processing conditions,” Wolf emphasizes.

For more information: Gretchen Schleck at 732-981-8300 Robertet Flavors • Write in 231

David Miles at 919-878-8045 Microthermics • Write in 232