The food manufacturing world is watching an unprecedented reality unfold during the COVID-19 pandemic. Major shifts in demand, distribution, sales and supply chain have some companies scrambling to respond to significant disruptions to the status quo. In addition to workforce reductions, raw material and ingredient shortages and price increases are driving a need to adapt quickly as pricing models are suddenly upside down. 

More common now than ever before, manufacturers are looking to make quick formulation adjustments. They may need to replace any problematic ingredients to still deliver a comparable end-product. 

One example involves dehydrated onions, which recently have been in tight supply and, as a result, have seen volatile pricing.  Some say the shortage stems from the fact that the dehydrate volume comes from sources in China that are drying up or are sporadic at best. Alternatives to consider are fresh or frozen onions that are unexpectedly in plentiful supply due to the dramatic drop in foodservice demand. In fact, diverting volume from foodservice distribution to industrial formulations is a win-win for everyone. 

Here’s another area of concern. Fresh red meat materials are continuing to tighten as COVID-19-related worker sicknesses temporarily close meat packing and processing facilities nationwide.  Further processors may find they either can’t get meat raw materials or are forced to accept materials that are outside of specifications.  

Substituting those fresh meat cuts with frozen counterparts or totally different cuts may require changes in formulation. Certain items can utilize frozen meat as a one for one swap for fresh meat, while other formulas will need adjustments to compensate for water binding, or to achieve finished product attributes.

Of course challenges don’t end there. Manufacturers hold inventories of packaging. With any reformulation there is the risk that ingredient and nutrition values will change. At this critical time of cost reduction, the time and expense of scrapping and replacing existing packaging is highly undesirable. That drives a need for reformulating within the confines of the existing ingredient and nutrition information printed on packaging. Ultimately, the key is finding that alternate ingredient source that will still comply with the label and at the same time provide the desired technical attributes. 

These are daunting hurdles, but if manufacturers want to be able to meet the volume demands coming from their retail customers they may need creative solutions. Companies that have had to shut down or slow down their R&D facilities in order to protect their employees can turn to third-party contractors who are better able to continue operating. 

For example, at BRANDformula, we have a private lab located in Bedford, Va., are nimble and have a broad range of capabilities. Through the use of technology we can effectively communicate with clients to understand formulation needs. And if there is a good measure of internal alignment within the client organization, products can get back on track relatively quickly. 

Steve Moore is Director, Product Innovation at BRANDformula. He is a veteran of global new product development who has held key positions at major ingredient and branded manufacturers. His technical expertise is sought by international chains, food and ingredient manufacturers and commodity boards. Readers may contact him at or learn more at about his firm’s strategic approach to product innovation.