When you head to your neighborhood supermarket, you are probably greeted by a mind-boggling variety of products stacked aisle after aisle. Believe it or not, these products result from careful food prototype development fueled by the need to meet and exceed customer expectations.
Food product prototype development involves the following steps:
- Prototype creation
- Sensory evaluation
- Pilot plant testing
- Sensory evaluation and product modification
- Consumer testing
- Finalization of product specification
- Market testing
Let’s deep dive into each of these steps.
In this stage, the team members brainstorm and come up with new product ideas. These are typically based on current market trends, flavor profiles that are in demand, ingredients that are gaining more traction, and more.
Usually, the base data for this stage is obtained from the marketing team. The marketing team sifts through and analyzes customer data and provides pertinent information based on
- Market research
- Changing consumer trends
- Understanding current customer needs
- Identifying market gaps
This information is subsequently shared with the product development team.
Another way to tap into current market trends and get a comprehensive idea of current customer expectations and where they are headed is to use a food intelligence system such as Spoonshot. Spoonshot works by leveraging Artificial Intelligence [AI] to keenly understand the interlinked domains of food science, consumer insights, marketing, and your product development journey.
This allows our proprietary #foodbrain to make intelligent recommendations that guide and propel your innovation research.
At this stage, it is also necessary to screen the product and check the regulatory and financial feasibility.
At this stage, it is essential to check if the prototype food product aligns with organizational goals. Screening needs to be performed continually to understand market trends. Here are some of the questions to be asked:
- Who is the target demographic?
- How will this prototype food product be used?
- How best can this prototype food product be prepared to meet consumer needs?
- How will the consumer benefit from it?
- Does this prototype food product have other uses?
- Who are the current competitors? How are their products different?
- Where will the product be sold?
- What is the go-to-market strategy?
- What will be the price point?
Feasibility concerns for a brand include regulatory compliance, technological, and financial. This requires forming a dedicated team in-house to ensure the food prototype development is smooth.
From the beginning, the brand needs to be aware of the various state and/or federal agencies that regulate a product and their various laws. For instance, products sold locally without crossing state lines have different regulations than those that do. Figuring out who the regulatory bodies are in each instance and how best to maintain compliance at every stage is non-negotiable.
Being cognizant of the local zoning laws is of utmost priority.
Developing a prototype food product requires specific equipment, facilities, and methods. Meeting these criteria is essential to ensure the smooth progression of food prototype development at every stage.
Before launching, it is essential to comprehensively understand all production and marketing costs.
Fixed costs (items that do not fluctuate due to changes in production)
- Property taxes, etc.
Variable costs (expenditures that vary with the volume of production)
- Hired labor
- Raw ingredients
- Packaging materials
- Other items used during production
Also Read: Food Product Development Ideas
After the product development has a clear idea of the shortlisted options and the flavor profiles they are hoping to create, they get started on developing the prototype food product.
This is the gold standard of what the final product will look like and taste. These experiments are conventionally done at an in-house test kitchen within the company or at an external test kitchen.
Creating prototype food products is a multi-disciplinary affair and requires experts from culinary arts and food science. The initial development of the prototype food product is done on a smaller scale to work out the kinks, tweak the recipe as needed, and minimize wastage. Food prototype development typically involves a series of trial and error to create a sought-after product.
Typically, at this stage, teams can use the base data to guide their decisions and check for alternatives if something isn’t working as desired.
This stage involves evaluating the product against the categories of taste, texture, aroma, and appearance, usually done by tasting the product. Employing sensory analysis to evaluate prototype food products delivers valuable insights that can be used to:
- Meet and exceed customer expectations
- Answer critical product questions that lead to higher revenue and market share
- Troubleshoot problems
- Gain an edge by comparisons to competitors
An in-house team or a third-party contractor handles this stage of food prototype development. When deploying sensory evaluation, it is essential to ensure the testing is performed consistently. The data needs to be collected efficiently and reliably promptly to provide the best results. It is vital to maintain quality and present the data appropriately.
The feedback and recommendations obtained at this stage are considered to modify the product as needed and finalize the gold standard.
Pilot Plant Testing
After the prototype food product has been finalized, the product is evaluated on a larger scale, called the pilot stage. This is done to mimic commercial production and finalize food product specifications.
The pilot stage provides ample room to change the process as needed when scaling up production. For instance, making pasta at home for four people is very different than cooking the same thing for forty people on New Year’s Eve. Pilot-scale testing allows brands to make crucial modifications before scaling up production.
Sensory Evaluation and Product Modification
Following pilot-scale testing, the scaled-up product prototype is again subject to sensory evaluation and product modification to standardize the scaled-up product.
Cooking time, temperature, and the balance of seasoning would have changed when scaling up to achieve the desired appearance, taste, texture, and quality. The pilot-scale process continues with the necessary modifications until the desired specifications are achieved.
Before the next stage, the following aspects are also evaluated:
This is a critical aspect of the product appeal. The team needs to consider:
- Customer perspective
- Target Demographic
- Packaging Material
- Product’s quality goals (Premium/Generic)
Brands need to consider the following
- Special distribution needs (frozen/refrigerated)
- Cost of special distribution
- Product availability radius
- National or regional distribution
Shelf life is typically determined through accelerated or real-time testing. Shelf life testing needs to be accurate, especially when considering the various distribution channels.
Shelf life testing of prototype food products can be done in-house or through external contractors.
When developing a prototype food product, the following aspects need to be considered for safety:
- History of outbreaks
- Published safety risks of certain product categories
- Products susceptible to the growth of spoilage and pathogenic microbes
- Allergens and physical contaminants
Having an in-house team for sensory evaluation or even an external contractor is a good idea to tweak the recipe. However, there is a possibility of bias. After identifying the target demographic, it is important to make them a part of the process. Therefore, allowing target customers to taste the product and provide feedback is imperative.
This can be done in the following ways:
- Inviting a small focus group (as few as eight people) to taste and confer on the product’s features.
- Specific focus groups could include vegans, pregnant women, athletes, etc.
- If the prototype food product is for a more expansive target demographic, other consumer testing methods can be deployed. These include:
- Sending the products to homes to be evaluated
- Conducting taste testing in public places such as supermarkets, shopping malls, beaches, etc.
Finalization of Product Specification
Obtaining feedback from the specific target demographic will go a long way in refining the final product specifications. Their recommendations can be used to modify the product to ensure that it satisfies and exceeds customer expectations.
Based on the feedback received, the team may have to:
- Go all the way back to brainstorming to figure out alternate ingredients to develop another prototype
- Make additional modifications at the pilot production stage
Also Read: Food Trends & Predictions 2022
After customer feedback, the next step is launching the prototype food product. This will involve scaling up the production to a commercial scale. It is recommended to launch in phases (specific regions or mini-markets) and iron out any kinks as you go along.
This will allow for feedback based on sales performance and modify the recipe. At this stage, the marketing will also be hard at work figuring out the advertising campaigns. After the launch of the new product, success is measured using the following metrics:
- Response across social media
- Sales Growth
- Market share expansion
- Sales revenue
The Road Ahead
At Spoonshot, we are constantly helping food brands, start-ups, and corporate giants, figure out their next big launch. We do this by connecting apparently disconnected data points to
- Discover current ingredient favorites
- Figure out the next big trend
- Understand the direction of customer expectations