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The QT on Product Development

My friends often ask me how I go about developing food products for retail, and the long answer is I cook, eat in restaurants, go to greenmarkets, cruise the supermarket aisles, check food blogs, read the usual food magazines, watch TV cooking shows, ask my foodie friends what they like to eat, attend food shows, and travel to taste world cuisine...... Whew, right? But that's my inspiration.

The longer answer is I need to constantly be thinking about production, so therefore I also visit the manufacturer’s factory so I can envision not only how a product can be made, but if my idea is feasible. Does a new machine need to be added to the production line? Do I have to tweak ingredients or textures to get even a semblance of the original idea to fruition?

There is also the ever present factoring in of cost of goods. I may have wanted to include pine nuts (currently through the roof cost-wise) in a recipe for roasted red pepper pesto, but when I have to sharpen my pencil to come up with pricing, what will the consumer market be willing to bear? So while product development sounds like what my friends call a “fun career”, the truth is that many gears need to be in place, meshing nicely, for a product to complete the distance from concept to shelf. It takes open communication with the client who wants to develop a product line, a knowledge of the capabilities of the manufacturer, and knowing how well distribution channels will function to create a product that will pass the trial by fire that determines its success.

This is all hard work, and it takes years of experience to make an idea a reality in such a way to avert disaster at any step of the process. And guess what: I have worked on projects that were completed from idea to product on-shelf in months, and others that still are in development after years of blood, sweat, and many tears!

Some manufacturers I know who co-pack wish that enthusiastic, first-time food product entrepreneurs who have completed all the steps in paragraph one would educate themselves more thoroughly when addressing production, costs, distribution and timelines. So my advice to those of you who think Product Development is “Romantic” with a capital R, please remember that many participants had a hand in creating that delicious roasted red pepper pesto — with walnuts!