The beverage industry is one of the most dynamic business sectors out there. But while the ever-evolving landscape of the beverage world may be exciting, it also comes with a unique set of challenges. Whether you’re a passionate entrepreneur or an established drink company seeking to expand your product lines, there’s certainly no shortage of risks involved in launching a beverage product — but luckily, there are a few ways you can stay prepared throughout the process.
1. Think Through Your Formulation
It may seem obvious, but the first step for reducing risks is knowing what you want from your beverage product — and that starts with formulation.
Because your vision is what is going to guide your beverage development team, you’ll need to be as specific as possible. The development process cannot even begin until you’ve given some thought to these key questions:
- What kind of beverage are you trying to create?
- What ingredients or flavors will you want to use?
- Is the calorie count going to be important for you?
- Who will your target consumer be and how is your product going to cater to their tastes?
- How much will your product cost?
- Are there any certifications you’d like your product to have?
- What about packaging?
A lot of risk prevention happens in the intake process, so having as much of this information as possible about your project ready in the beginning is going to be most beneficial to you and your technical team.
At Flavorman, our experts start by walking clients through a Beverage Blueprint and “Kickoff Call” that helps outline the “asks” of the project. Having access to this fuller picture of your intended beverage product allows the team to catch and address any formulation-related risks early.
The primary risks they look for are related to things like beverage stability, especially when it comes to how your drink will do over the course of its shelf life. From pH or carbonation levels, to how the product is preserved, produced by the co-packer, and more, your development team will go through your vision and determine the best pathway for making it successful.
Let’s say you want to add fruit juice, vitamins, and minerals to your beverage product — there are a few risks here we can flag up front.
From a quality standpoint, we know that colors from fruit and vegetable juice are going to fade quickly, so your drink will look different in four months than it would in the beginning. We can make you aware of these risks and offer some possible solutions.
We also know that some ingredients, like Vitamin C, can cause browning even if your product isn’t exposed to light. In addition to proposing possible formulation alternatives, we can make you aware of important packaging considerations, saving you both time and money in the long run.
Other formulation considerations may be process based. For example, there are carbonation limitations on pasteurized products, and if you don’t want to add preservatives to your carbonated drink, then you’ll likely need to pasteurize it.
Because a carbonated product is already going to be under a lot of pressure, when you heat it up during pasteurization there’s always the risk that it will explode. That’s not to say it’s an impossible drink to make, but you will be required to stay below a certain threshold of carbonation to reduce that risk.
During the formulation phase, there’s also certifications to consider. If your beverage product is supposed to be organic, that’s something your team should know from the very beginning so they can ensure your formulation and ingredients meet the standards needed to be classified per the National Organic Program (NOP). They can also provide guidance on choosing a co-packing facility that is also prepared to manufacture an organic product.
If you’re seeking to create something like a powdered dietary supplement, the same rules apply. If your formulation doesn’t follow the specific requirements outlined for supplements, you can run into trouble with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
In other words, not only should you be clear about exactly what you’re looking for in your product, but your beverage development team should be equipped to assess potential risks regarding the composition limitations of certain ingredients combinations, packaging considerations, or process requirements. This brings us to tip #2.
2. Know the Regulatory Landscape
Finalizing your beverage formula is exciting, but before you can introduce your drink to the world, you’ll need to gather the right paperwork for regulatory compliance. Fortunately, depending on who you work with, your beverage development partner may be able to do this for you, or at least point you in the right direction.
At Flavorman, we handle most of the regulatory heavy lifting as part of our process because we understand that this is one more way that we can significantly reduce risks for your beverage product. Once your drink formula has been approved, our knowledgeable team of experts will work with you to create and review your labels and documentation based on our interpretation of FDA and TTB regulations; however, this should not take the place of a legal review by an attorney specializing in these areas.
It’s important to provide an accurate Ingredients Statement and Nutritional or Supplement Facts panel — or you might risk running into problems with the FDA. Of course, things get tricky if you’re not sure which labels to use (or when and where to use them) and it’s a completely different process for alcohol products, which also have to follow the standards set by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Labeling requires knowledge of the governing body’s definitions of terms like “ingredient” and an understanding of the distinction between classifications, like “natural” versus “artificial” flavors. But even then, studying a glossary of terms may not be enough to hash it out by yourself.
You’ll also need to ensure you are presenting the information in the correct manner as dictated by the FDA or TTB, or whoever the appropriate institution for your locality, state, or country may be. For example, do you know what size type you need to use on your panel? Or the order you must present ingredients? What about the standards for listing colorings, chemical preservatives, or even water?
Knowing whether it is acceptable to use synonyms for certain nutrients or how to declare specific amounts of ingredients are all nuances that your compliance team can assist with — or at least review — to determine that guidelines are met accurately and appropriately. Don’t risk delaying your delicious drink from the market for something like using the wrong label font! Let the experts help you do it right for you the first time.
As with labeling, your compliance team will also consider what certifications you are claiming on your product and whether you have met those requirements.
Whether your beverage product is Kosher, Halal, non-GMO, or organic, your compliance team should ensure that you get the assistance you need to get certified. If your beverage developers were made aware of your intentions from the beginning, then a lot of this process is cross-checking with suppliers and your co-packer, reviewing and verifying formulation and procedural information, and filling out paperwork.
Of course, your team will also audit your product’s compliance with any other relevant FDA or TTB guidelines as part of this process.
“We want to make sure that at every step of the way, there is as little for clients to worry about as possible — especially when it comes to things we know we can do more quickly and efficiently in-house, like labeling,” says Michael Ware, Technical & Regulatory Specialist. “Then it becomes one less thing our clients have to worry about, so they can just focus on marketing their drink and building their business.”
It’s true. Obtaining the encyclopedic knowledge of how to address beverage-related regulatory considerations takes years of experience. There’s absolutely no reason why you should have to Google your way through it. Let the experts handle the hassle and have peace of mind knowing that your product has been vetted and verified as compliant — and take comfort knowing you’ve saved yourself some boredom too!
3. Don’t Skip Out on Quality Testing
Thanks to the expertise of your beverage development team, many quality related risks can be addressed during the formulation phase. However, every beverage project is unique, so it is important to stay ahead of any potential problems by also ironing out your production procedures and conducting quality assurance and shelf-life testing.
The first component of ensuring the quality of your product happens in the pre-production process. Drink manufacturers need to know how to put your beverage together. That’s where your blending instructions come in — essentially, this is your recipe for the commercialized version of your drink. These instructions tell your co-packer exactly how to produce your beverage so that what your customers buy from the store tastes the same as what you worked so hard to make in the lab with us.
At Flavorman, our quality team provides your production manual with these instructions, along with any finished product specifications, Data Safety Sheets (SDS), and Certificates of Analysis (COAs). Your co-packer should be checking these throughout the run, but when you send in finished product to us, we’ll double check to make sure everything matches up, looks, and tastes great.
Shelf Life Testing
It’s best practice to get in some initial shelf life testing on your lab samples — Flavorman recommends at least three months before going to production. Three months of accelerated shelf life testing can approximate what your drink will look and taste like after one year, even though you’re only waiting a matter of months for those results. This information is vital for preventing risks with the future quality of your beverage product.
In addition to gaining a better understanding of your beverage through testing the lab samples, if you send samples from each production run to your beverage development partner, your team can conduct specification checks to make sure each batch of your drink is being produced correctly. This is something your co-packer should already be doing, but at Flavorman, we like to double check. If there does happen to be an issue, then that’s something that can be caught before your product gets into too many hands.
Running shelf life testing on your production samples also allows us to gain a deeper understanding of how your drink holds up over time in your own packaging, and we can compare that data to the lab formulation tests. Essentially, having more testing allows us to discover more about your unique beverage’s longevity and how different variables might affect it over time. This knowledge is just one more way to anticipate and prevent risks.
The next big step involves on-site quality assurance. You need to make sure there are no issues happening during production that will compromise your beverage product, budget, or the safety of your consumers. That’s why Flavorman doesn’t only help you find the right manufacturer for your drink, but we’ll also provide on-site quality control to make sure it is produced correctly and consistently, preventing additional risks.
At Flavorman, our experts are available to attend your first production and work directly with the co-packer to help ensure that appropriate procedures are followed, perform on-site quality control, double and triple check the co-packer’s work, and provide expert sensory evaluation as the product is batched and filled. Most of the time there are no issues, but when they do occur it is always preferable to have someone on-site working on your behalf to solve the problem.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of problems we’ve addressed at productions:
- Natural variations in some of the fruit juices the client sourced meant the finished product didn’t have the same balance of sweetness and acidity. Adjusting a few of the key components in the batch allowed the product to remain in spec and greatly improved the flavor.
- A co-packer accidentally measured the alcohol content of the whiskey needed incorrectly, which caused the entire batch to be well below the desired proof. With the tank full and limited amounts of other ingredients, salvaging the batch and minimizing waste would be difficult over the phone, but became a relatively easy fix on-site.
It only takes one hiccup to throw off the success of your entire operation — and you’ve worked too hard to let that happen!
Ted Roszel, Flavorman’s Director of Quality & Production, says it best: “Our team has worked with hundreds of contract manufacturers on thousands of productions all over the world. We know how hard you’ve worked to get your brand this far, and we want to make sure nothing stops it now. One of the most important things you can do to ensure that is have a Flavorman representative there with you every step of the way.”
Production Retain Samples
It’s also a good idea to have a designated number of what are called “production retain samples.” At Flavorman, we can keep several samples of your finished beverage product easily accessible in house, just case anything comes up.
Let’s say there’s a quality issue. It’s surprising how many brand owners can’t get ahold of their drink once it has hit the market. If you or one of your consumers has a complaint, then having ten samples on our shelf that we can quickly pull and test is incredibly helpful. Or maybe your distributor didn’t rotate the product and needs to know if an older pallet of your beverage is okay to sell; well, if you sent us some samples for retainment, we can answer that question for you.
4. Find the Right Partner
You can address all of these considerations by finding the right partner. The more qualified your beverage development team, the less likely your product is to fail. Why? Because your team of experts should have both the technical knowledge and experience to anticipate the potential risks of your beverage product, as well as the capacity to provide innovative solutions that reduce (if not prevent) those risks.
There’s a reason why Flavorman is considered one of the leading authorities in the industry. With almost 30 years in the business and over 61,000 beverage formulations under our belt, the art and science of beverage development is absolutely second nature to us. We are confident in our understanding of how various ingredients behave in solution. We know what the flavor implications are, and we can guide you toward choosing the right components for making a tasty, high-quality beverage. From the beginning, we can already approximate the shelf life of a product and how the ingredients are likely to interact, but we go the extra mile to test and ensure that we are correct about it.
Beyond beverage development, Flavorman is committed to your success. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to provide educational resources, contacts, and professional services so our clients are set up for success even after we’ve brought your dream drink to life. From start through finish®, that’s the Flavorman promise.
“Other development companies or flavor houses will give you a formula and flavor and send you on your way,” says Kristen Wemer, Flavorman’s Director Beverage Architect. “They don’t provide any technical or regulatory support. Flavorman is different. Even after your formulation has been finalized, we continue to be an extension of your team. That’s what makes us so unique and that’s what makes our clients — and their beverages — so successful.”
When you’re ready to talk about your beverage idea, give us a call at (502) 273-5214 or get started with this web form.