With the wider adoption of technology throughout industries, companies seem to be making more innovative products than ever before.
The food industry seemed like the last place for a formal product development process, but due to rapidly changing markets and development in food science, businesses have started to implement detailed processes to encourage innovation.
Food product development is a complex process where food companies have to carefully plan, invest in, and revise their production strategy to create a successful food product.
An understanding of product development can help businesses thrive in the fiercely competitive food industry and gain an edge over their competitors by attracting customers with their innovative product offers.
In this article, we’ll discuss what food product development is and the steps involved in making a successful food product.
What is Food Product Development?
Food product development is the process of creating and commercializing new food products. Product development in the food industry is a complex process and requires extensive knowledge of food science, ingredients, and food processing techniques.
Developing new food products is a costly, time-consuming, and high-risk process. Thousands of food products are released each year, but around 50-70% of them fail. This makes it essential to understand the difference between the product development of goods and product development in the food industry.
How Does Food Product Development Differ from the Development of Goods?
There are many aspects to look for when developing a new product, as NPD varies from industry to industry. However, in the food industry, there are many regulatory requirements that a company must adhere to in the development of a product that is not only high-quality, but also safe to consume.
The main difference between food product development and other industry’s product development is that the feasibility analysis for foods is much more detailed. For food products, you need to consider the following:
- Regulatory standards
For a product outside of food development, like software for example, the only feasibility analysis you would have to carry out is a financial analysis. This would take into account the risk factors for developing the product and the financial situation of the company.
Since food products could be potentially harmful to people who consume them, they are monitored for food safety by local regulatory bodies. If you’re operating in the U.S., your food production would be monitored and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which makes it important to read their terms and conditions to ensure regulatory compliance for your food product.
5 Stages of the Food Product Development Process
Idea generation is essential for developing new and innovative products in your industry. There are countless methods for generating new ideas for a product, including:
- Market research
- Business analysis
- Competitive analysis
Brainstorming is an easy and cost-effective way to generate and discuss ideas. During these brainstorming sessions, stakeholders are encouraged to be creative as there are no “wrong” ideas. In this way, product development teams collaborate better and foster an innovative environment.
Analyzing market and consumer trends helps the product development team identify customer needs and generate potential solutions. Ideas generated through market research have a higher chance of success as they take into account existing customer demands. Once a product is presented to satisfy this demand, there’s a high likelihood that customers will be eager to buy the new product.
Conducting a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis can give you an overview of where your business stands in the market. Insights from this analysis can help you prioritize which initial steps to take to develop the food product.
Researching and analyzing who your competitors are and what they are doing can help food companies identify market gaps. These gaps can be seen as opportunities for satisfying customer needs that have not yet been met. Just like with business analysis, competitive analysis also increases the likelihood of a successful food idea.
After finding ideas with the above methods, the next step is to validate them. These filtered ideas help reduce costs and food waste in the later steps. These ideas then make it through to the idea screening stage, where they are tested for further development.
Idea screening is the process of testing a new product idea to ensure it aligns with business goals and customer needs. This screening process allows product development teams to assess the risk of an idea early in the process and improve the likelihood of success.
Companies can use different techniques to evaluate the idea. Using customer feedback, social media monitoring, prior market research, or business analysis are reliable ways to test the feasibility of ideas.
Product teams also need to analyze the following:
- Market conditions
- Manufacturing processes
- Current resources
- Risk factors
- Profitability and potential of the product
You don’t need all the answers to the above right away, but they should be considered early on prior to the next stage: feasibility analysis.
- Feasibility Analysis
You have an idea at hand, but how feasible is it for the business? This stage of the process deals with assessing regulations, technology, and finances that a business needs to start production of its prototype.
Before production, the product manager should be aware of the code of federal requirements, which is an annually updated set of general rules & regulations published in the federal registry by the federal government.
Apart from a general understanding of the CFR, product managers should also know about the authoritative bodies. If the food production is done locally, it’ll be monitored and verified by local authorities. However, if the food product crosses national borders, it is monitored by the FDA and/or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA.)
There are different regulations for acid foods, poultry and meat products, and beverages. Product managers must educate themselves on the legal requirements for regulatory compliance with each food item they intend to produce.
Food Science & Technology
For the production of food to be successful, the project must be technologically feasible. Businesses must ensure that they have access to the technology, systems, and processes required by the manufacturing process.
Product developers will communicate with stakeholders to identify the necessary ingredients. Some ingredients may need to be mentioned on the product packaging, such as potentially harmful additives, high amounts of sugar, and allergens.
After knowing which ingredients are needed for the formulation, the developer will have to source suppliers. They would have to learn about the availability of the ingredients as well to plan, for example, if the ingredient is seasonal or available all year.
Plant-based foods are regulated by the USDA, whereas seafood is regulated by the Department of Commerce. Knowing about the ingredients helps determine the regulations surrounding them and if they apply to your process.
Formulation refers to the process of combining all the ingredients and processes to establish a formula to get the desired effect from the product. Food formulation is usually done in laboratories by food scientists. Multiple experiments may be conducted to find the right mix of ingredients and processes. It’s also critical to record all these experiments in a lab notebook to act as proof of concept and documentation for the food formula.
Shelf Life & Safety Measures
Food safety is a major concern for both regulatory bodies and consumers. Product developers and managers should read the history of outbreaks as well as research papers on how certain ingredients react with the digestive system when consumed.
Developers should also consider the potential causes of food poisoning, allergies, harmful contaminants, dangerous chemicals, and spoilage. This knowledge will help you prepare for any surprises, pass regulatory checks, and ensure your product is safe for human consumption.
Apart from food safety, good quality product packaging should also be a priority. This includes measuring the shelf life of the product and estimating how long the quality of the food product will be preserved before deteriorating.
A detailed cost analysis is conducted to determine how much the production of a food item would cost. Fixed and variable costs are to be considered during this stage as these will give the most accurate estimations.
- Prototype Development
By this stage, you should be confident that your idea is feasible and that it’s ready for production. Before producing a final piece, food manufacturers create prototypes, which are replicas of the final food item without the core features. These are inexpensive to make as mass production hasn’t started.
The prototype is made only for testing purposes. It allows companies to test and get feedback on their product before commercialization.
Test the prototype with all stakeholders, and incorporate the feedback on the product in the next stage.
- Testing & Development
With the prototype in place, testing for the product begins. Developers conduct multiple food tests to assess the quality, safety, and nutritional information of the food product. Tests may include the following:
- Analytical Chemistry Testing – Studying and analyzing the different chemical components of the food substance. Here scientists analyze the pH levels, additives, allergens, and other elements of the food item.
- Sensory testing – Using the five natural human senses to test the product: sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell.
- Nutrition analysis – Finding the nutritional values of the food product that are used to label packaging material for consumer transparency.
- Microbiology testing – Tests for identifying microorganisms that may cause spoilage or contaminate the food. Typically done in steps on raw materials, ingredients, and then the final product.
- Shelf life testing – Assessing the quality of the product over time and how well packaging preserves the quality of the product.
Doing these tests are necessary to find out enough information about the food quality to deem it safe before launch. After completing the tests, researchers will gather the information and share it with product teams to incorporate the feedback into the product development process.
This process of testing and gaining feedback may be iterated and incremented until the optimal product quality is achieved. After completing product development, the marketing and sales team get involved to ensure a successful launch of the product.
This is the final stage of the food product development process. In this stage, businesses can officially launch the product or conduct further tests to assess market conditions and plan accordingly.
Marketers may conduct market testing before an official launch. Market testing is the process of evaluating how well a product will perform in the market before wide-scale production and launch.
The business may release the product to a few demographics of their target market to gather feedback on what they think and how well the product performed in a competitive setting. After some early success, marketers might ease into a full rollout of the product, making it available on a larger scale.
Finally, after a successful launch, the product’s ongoing performance should be monitored. Businesses can also find ways to increase quality or profitability over time by finding cheaper suppliers or eliminating defects based on customer complaints.
Product maintenance is important to preserve the life of your product and ensure it doesn’t become obsolete.
It’s necessary for product managers in this day and age to adopt a formal new product development process due to rapidly changing customer demands and business dynamics that make the food industry more competitive.
Food product development is a complex process that requires a significant amount of time and money to implement, making it important to get it right the first time. Following the above steps will help minimize risk and increase the likelihood of a successful product launch.