Editor’s Note: Although there may be a pandemic-related slowdown, there’s no stopping new product development activity. To better help its readers with initial new product evaluation and development Prepared Foods asked Nancy Jo Seaton, owner and president of Seaton Food Consultants, to create a thought leadership series. Seaton has more than 30 years of food industry experience and most recently led global product evaluation for the Subway restaurants. She also has worked for such global food brands as Chiquita, Unilever and ConAgra.

A life spent in food gives Seaton a unique perspective on consistent product quality. Her many diverse roles from sales to manufacturing to foodservice gave her the opportunity to pioneer an innovative and customized approach to product evaluation. Combining organoleptic assessment with Good Lab Practices she has successfully executed this evaluation system for many years.

This is the fourth and last installment in an ongoing series.

Certainly, you and your team have done the due diligence to determine what consumers will pay for your product, and you have some idea of what you intend to sell it for. So—now the real work begins.  

Trying to figure out how to get it made while making the most profit possible. And, if you are working with a co-manufacturer, you need to generate enough profit for both of you.

When you build the recipe for your product, you think of it as you would make it in a kitchen, even if it is a commercial kitchen. The ingredients that are available from your local purveyor or retail grocer come nowhere near what is available for the commercial manufacturer.

Once you move into the world of commercial manufacturing the universe of ingredients increases exponentially.  No longer is there only one “sesame oil”, but rather there is sesame flavor, toasted sesame flavor, in liquid or powder form, and then at least 10 different types of oil from which to choose.

As you make your selections, with the help of your manufacturer, or product developer (on your team, or the manufacturer’s team, or with a third party) you will be making decisions based on shelf life, performance, appearance, flavor—and cost.

Beyond the safest and most efficient manufacturing methods, ingredients play a key role in cost.  Some things to consider as you embark on specifying your ingredients are the “boundaries” that you want your product to live inside.

One of these boundaries or guidelines could be an emphasis on “clean” ingredients, meaning no artificial colors or flavors. Some folks also consider any chemicals to enhance food safety or extend shelf life to be a detriment to a “clean” label.

You also might prefer organic, or locally sourced, or “green.” Ingredients. There are many ways to erect boundaries around your product. However, you must be cognizant that each one will cost you — time, product availability, potentially customers, and certainly money.

Your manufacturer will be an excellent partner to guide you through the ingredient-specification process because they have existing relationships with their current suppliers who have a large portfolio of products.  Be aware that if there is an ingredient that makes your product unique, you have to be sure that there is enough supply of that special item so as not to limit your volume.  It would be awful to hold up production or run out of items on the shelf because you could not get an ingredient that represented 5% of your total formula.

Once you have identified ALL of your ingredients, it’s time complete your hard work and literally include them in your specification.  What type of salt are you using?  Kosher salt?  Sea Salt?  What is the grain size?  You will ask the same questions about the sugar. Is that sugar from beets or from cane? Does it matter?  If it does matter—be sure to note it in your specification.

Here’s why this is important. If at some point during the process you notice that something doesn’t taste or look quite right, and the manufacturer assures you they have not changed the process, having all of the ingredients carefully identified will help you pinpoint issues as they arise.

Perhaps the co-packer had to change chocolate suppliers, and there is a flavor difference between chocolate from Africa and Latin America (which there is).  Or perhaps they couldn’t get the proper sugar grain size and went up in size. Now, the product texture comes off as more “sandy” in your mouth because the sugar didn’t melt properly. Or perhaps things are “mushy” because the co-packer went down to a smaller grain size of sugar, and it is melting too fast in the baking process.

It will take you forever to find an ingredient issue by combing back through batch records if you don’t have a specification requiring explicit ingredients. It also will give you a stronger partnership when the manufacturer has to call you first to make a change regarding any ingredients. This could happen due to should supply or even chance to save money.  If you fail to identify exactly what is going into your product, it is at the manufacturer’s discretion. 

The bottom line is to be prepared and be detailed so that your formula ingredients don’t change without notice.

View the first installment in this series.

View the second installment in this series.

View the third installment in this series.