Product Development: Getting Your Food Product From Idea to Launch

The time has come and you are ready to begin working on a new product (or your first product!). From ideation to launch, developing your food or beverage product while maintaining tight timelines can be a daunting task. Detailed planning can set the stage for flawless execution, but where do you start? 

Scott Edgett and Robert Cooper are the masterminds behind the Stage-Gate Product Innovation Process.

This process has changed the way businesses manage their product development and it can be incredibly helpful when creating a new product. Here are some insights into using this process when creating your next food or beverage product. 

Keep in mind – we wrote this assuming you already have a larger team in place. If you are still a 1 or 2 person team, don’t worry, the same steps apply!

Stage 1: Discovery  – Time to Brainstorm!

Gather the team and start brainstorming. At this stage, anything goes, but do keep in mind the direction of the company and its current capabilities. Look for blue sky ideas that push the boundaries, but fit within the overall company mission. Pulse players in the surrounding environment and get early feedback on ideas that could be potential “winners” in the market. 

Before moving on to the next stage, make sure the entire team is excited and passionate about the idea, including leadership!

Stage 2: Scoping & Screen (Building the Business Case)

Market research! Understand what else is out there and who your competition is. Will this be a viable product in an already crowded space? If so, what differentiates you from the competition and is that enough to bring it to market? Know the product inside and out, and what makes it better than the rest. How will the consumer respond? 

This is a critical stage and doing your homework is a must! Ensure the product passes with two thumbs up before moving through to the development stage.

Stage 3: Development

Build a timeline that sets you up for success. Incorporate all functions of the business (Brand/Sales, Product (R&D), Sourcing, Production & QA) and ensure all milestones are fully vetted and achievable. At this point, your project plan becomes a tool for the entire team to follow across the finish line.

  • Get into the Kitchen! Begin with bench-top samples, start with the basics to work up something simple and then move on from there. As you begin to develop and formulate, understand your financial targets. Try to work within them, but never compromise taste for cost at this point in the timeline. You want to develop a product that has that yum factor, and you only want to put the best of the best in front of your targeted accounts.
  • Kickoff design and understand your packaging. Work closely with marketing to ensure the artwork and design of the product reaches out to the target market. Create a survey with different design options and send out to existing customers or influencers in the industry. Figure out which designs resonate with the customers (post coming on packaging design soon!). As artwork nears closer to final design, submit for a cross-department review. This will catch all errors in design prior to going to print.
  • Develop an initial sales and marketing plan, understand who the targeted sales accounts will be. Begin executing on those plans, getting preliminary specs, flavors, and designs in front of buyers. Start selling early, as most customers work around 9-12 month reset dates. If an opportunity is missed, don’t expect your product to be on shelf at the time of reset.

Stage 4: Testing 

It’s time to bring the product to life! Make sure you have the right co-packer lined upand move into full length production trials. It is important for you and your co-packer to understand the goals of the trial, as these trials will mimic a full production run, giving you an idea of the product’s true look, taste and feel. Retrial as needed, until the team is comfortable with all aspects of the product. This will be your last shot at changing any attributes before going to market. 

Once you have finished trials, do a deep dive to understand your product costs. As you have moved through the stage-gate process, your product will have changed significantly. Make sure you are pulling the trigger on a product that will bring you financial success. Ensure your co-packer is in line with these costs, as they will be heavily involved in managing these over time. Rally the sales team one last time before launch. Have them provide final feedback on a launch forecast and a 12 month look forward. 

Once the testing stage is approved, the company will take on financial liabilities, ordering materials for launch against this forecast. Review product trials, COGs, and final forecasts with the executive team before going into launch phase!

Stage 5: Ready, Set, Go! Launch

The launch should encompass all of the work that has been completed throughout the life the project. The product should be ready to hit shelf. Each department will have completed the following:

  • Sales has lined up buyers and the product will be ready to scale at launch.
  • Marketing has built an extensive campaign to back the launch and gain product awareness.
  • R&D and Finance have built a tasty, quality and profitable product.
  • Creative has designed a product (and packaging) that will connect with the consumer.
  • Operations & Quality is in place to execute on initial production and hit the planned start of shipment.

Doesn’t sound that tough right? Wrong! It’s really really hard, but that’s why we do it! To make great food products that people are going to love. So get out there and start making your way through the stages and launch the next great product!