Product Development: Transforming Recipes into Formulations


It all starts with “the big idea”. But not every big idea is destined for success. Here are some essential factors to keep in mind throughout the product development process.

Build a foundation

In previous articles we explored how to understand the target customer, analyze the competition, develop a brand strategy and draft a marketing plan. This is the groundwork and provides direction for the product development journey.

Blend culinary expertise with food science

It takes time and expertise to transform a recipe into a benchtop formulation that will become the commercial prototype.

One of many challenges is achieving the shelf life retailers require. Throughout that shelf life – spanning weeks or months – an unopened product must be safe to eat, and the quality and nutrients must remain within specifications. This is just one of the critical areas where food science comes into play.

Combining the culinary talents of a chef with a food scientist experienced in food processing, food safety and quality assurance, will get you off on the right foot.

Don’t develop products in isolation

Having a cross-functional team involved in the decision-making process improves the prospects for creating a commercially successful product. Incorporate operations, procurement, regulatory, marketing, sales and finance roles into the development team. For health-focused products bring a dietitian on board. And a brand manager will help to keep the project on strategy.

Focus on the target consumer

Design the product with attributes and benefits that are relevant to the target consumer. Products that solve a problem and satisfy an unmet need have the ultimate advantage.

Before a prototype is finalized, validate your assumptions and gain valuable insights through consumer testing. Be prepared to make the appropriate modifications.

Beware of fads

Consumer preferences change quickly. Before jumping on a trend, make sure it’s not a short-term fad that will make your product obsolete.

Keep tabs on competitors

Evaluate how sensory attributes, features, benefits, points of difference and value stack up against the competition. Adjustments may be in order to meet the required standards or strengthen the point of difference.

Control the cost of goods

Even the world’s best tasting product will not sell if the price is higher than consumers are willing to pay. Monitor raw ingredient and production costs to ensure the target profit, distributor and retailer margins and retail price are achievable.

Stay true to your brand

During the lengthy product development process, it’s easy to deviate from the brand strategy. To meet customer expectations and keep them coming back for more, the product must live up to the brand promise.

However, if the brand promise cannot be achieved, then it is advisable to revise it. For example, a brand committed to producing organic and grain-free products may be unable to source quality ingredients at a reasonable cost. This can have a significant impact on sales and profitability. Modifying the standards may be the only option.

The product development process is complex, with many moving parts. Integrating these ingredients into the process can make it more effective and deliver a more relevant finished product that your target customers will embrace.

Birgit Blain can make your food products more marketable. She specializes in product strategy and labelling. Her experience includes 17 years with Loblaw Brands and President’s Choice®. Contact her at

© Birgit Blain

This article appeared in Food in Canada magazine.

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