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food product developmentLearning about the way that a new food product goes from conception to the supermarket is a fascinating process. Whether you want to develop some new food products yourself, or you just want to learn more about where the food you purchase comes from and how it got there, learning about food product development can help.

What is Food Product Development?

If you’ve ever seen a brand new flavor or food option from one of your favorite brands, thought about it, and proceeded to give it a try, you’ve been part of the end stages in food product development. This process is how someone takes a new concept, such as a new type of food, or a new flavor of existing food, and brings it to the consumer to try. Every company goes through it with varying degrees of success. Some products, such as New Coke, make it all the way to the end only to fail in the final customer feedback segment, while other products may not make it past the initial stages, simply because the developer has no idea where to begin.

In a nutshell, food product development is a series of stages that every business goes through as it tries to bring a new food to market. This is something that you will learn whether you are starting a home-based food business, or considering pitching an idea to an established company. Due to things like food safety, as well as tried and true consumer feedback methods, the stages that you take your food through from conception to consumer doesn’t vary much regardless of what it is you are developing.

The Stages of Food Product Development

Depending on whether you are working with an established company, or you’re planning your own start up, you may find you spend less or more time on each of the various steps. This is because established companies have often done some of the initial legwork that a start up might need to establish.

Stage One the Business Strategy

Just because you have a great new food product, it doesn’t mean that you have a means to market it, or a market for it. This is where your business strategy comes into play. Are you going to sell it yourself, either from home, or by starting up your own food truck? Are you planning on producing on a large scale and getting it onto store shelves to reach a larger customer base? Who is your target audience, and what can you do to convince them that this product is worth trying? You also need to know where you’ll be getting your capital, where you’ll be developing the product – in a test kitchen, at home, at an established business – and you’ll need to determine how you want your product to look in terms of packaging and presentation. Taking a course in new business innovations can help get you started, as can taking a look at competing brands to see what kinds of packaging sell.

Stage Two Product and Process Development

Once you have a business strategy, you’ll also have determined a way to produce your product in the scale necessary to get it to market. During this stage, you’ll perfect your process. This may include purchasing equipment, hiring production workers, or expanding your space. Try to plan ahead at this point for potential growth if the product takes off.

Stage Three Product Testing

Just because you think that your product is a great idea, doesn’t mean that everyone else will, or that it passes certain food regulatory laws. If necessary, you’ll need to brush up on food safety laws, and make sure that you get the requisite testing carried out. This is particularly true if you are bringing a very new product, such as a newly discovered herb, to market.

You may also want to begin testing things like taste and marketing on a small group of people to get initial reactions. It doesn’t make much sense for you to go full speed ahead if the first reactions you get are negative.

Stage Four Market Testing

The market testing stage of food product development entails you bringing your product out into public, but in very limited and highly scrutinized ways. The point is to find out how your product is going to do once launched. How is it received by potential consumers? Do they enjoy the flavor, but are put off by the appearance? Are they attracted by the packaging? What about this product would make them potentially choose it over a brand that they’ve already been using? Do they have additional thoughts?

Obviously you don’t have to take every suggestion given to you during your test marketing, but it’s helpful to listen and determine where to go based on this evidence. As you learn how to market your food based business, you’ll also be discovering ways that can help you make it even better. If you get a clear, consistent message again and again from consumers, then it’s in your best interests to stop and reevaluate. Ignoring your market testing could be disastrous. Keep in mind that market testing can sometimes not predict how a product will do, however. New Coke did well in its initial market tests, even though it failed to gain market share once it was officially released.

Stage Five Product Launch Preparation

It would be foolhardy to go straight from market testing to product launch without taking the time to prepare first. While you’ve tested your process development already, now is the time to put some of that into action. Make sure that you can easily accommodate demand, start production to make sure you have enough product to put out onto shelves, and begin to build a dedicated sales team. Your sales team should be out working tirelessly on your behalf at this point, getting your product some space on store shelves, and coming up with a marketing plan to raise consumer awareness about your product.

Stage Six Product Launch

All of your hard work pays off in this moment at the time of your product launch. This is where your business strategy and your launch preparation come together to help ensure a successful completion of your goals. It’s at this time that your product is in full production, getting onto store shelves and reaching consumers. Marketing is in full swing, driving consumer attention to your product and encouraging them to give it a try. And while this is the goal that you have been aiming for all along, it is not the final step in bringing your product to market.

Stage Seven Post Launch Evaluation

The post launch evaluation is nearly as important as the launch itself, and almost more important than the previous stages as well. This is because you need to be able to see what consumer reactions are like, and make adjustments in real time if necessary. While a failed product may not be avoidable, failing on a small scale will cost much less than failing on a larger scale will. If your product succeeds, you also need to be in position to make the most of this success by ramping up production if necessary, listening to consumer feedback and beginning the development of follow up items, such as new flavors of the original product, or a new line of products that complement the first one. This is also the point where you may see whether your test marketing has given you the right or the wrong idea. This early in the game, you may still be able to adjust things like packaging or consumer response if you are paying attention and are able to react quickly enough. This may be enough for you to save things or turn the ship around if it looks as though it’s not going well. Pay close attention during this particular stage to see which way the wind is blowing and prepare to take your next steps to keep your product moving in a favorable manner.

From Conception to Consumer

There’s no timetable for how long it will take you to complete these various stages to bring a new product to market. You may find that the ride is swift and easy and you are able to get your product to consumers very quickly, or you may find that it can take years to pass food safety regulations, get the requisite funding, and to finally bring your product to the table. Regardless of how long the process takes you, remember that each stage is important to the overall development of your product; rushing or skipping a step to bring your product out faster may backfire later by leaving you unprepared for things like increased production, or a poor initial consumer response. Take the time to go over each one of the steps until it reaches your satisfaction before you move on. This will help to ensure the success of your new product. Begin your journey in food product development and see what kind of ride it takes you on.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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