Food scientists are not a one-stop shop but can certainly be a means to many solutions in your food/beverage company. Before you hire one, here are 5 things to do first.
We’ve all been there. Overwhelmed, overworked, under-appreciated, underpaid, incredibly behind.
For those who own their own thing (or aim to), chances are you realize – at some point – you have to be everyone – sales, marketing, legal, accounting, and somehow, your actual job.
When you try to be everyone, it is a countdown to burnout. We all know this, so why do we put ourselves through it?
It’s really hard to know when to outsource, especially because outsourcing costs money – and in every case of any successful business – spending has a limit. Especially a start-up.
This article will walk you through 5 things you can do and should have ready before you hire a food scientist (unless you like to spend money).
1. Know what you want.
In 1-2 sentences, know how to explain your product. At least what it is and the purpose.
With all the trends out there, I know your product is so much more than this. To best explain the trends and/or claims your product holds standard, list them.
Here’s an example:
Product: This is a ready-to-drink beverage containing 20g of plant protein per serving. It’s available in three flavors: vanilla, chocolate, & strawberry and sold in individual, 12 oz. units. It does not require refrigeration.
Standard: Non-GMO Project Verified, Certified Organic, Gluten-free, Vegan
2. Recipe development.
Not everyone has a recipe developed, and that could be why you want to work with a food scientist. Totally makes sense.
However, if you already have a finished recipe and perhaps need a food scientist for other reasons (sourcing suppliers, finding a co-manufacturer, preparing for commercial-scale processing, etc.), here’s something you can do.
Convert all your volumetric units (cups, teaspoons, tablespoons, gallons, etc.) to weight units (grams, kilograms, pounds). This is an essential step if you’re serious about scaling your product. It’s also important so that you can double-check your work, ensuring it is indeed the amount needed for a successful recipe.
If you want to take it one step further, convert weight units into percentage form. If that’s too confusing, no worries. It will take a food scientist a few minutes to input into an Excel spreadsheet.
3. Suppliers & Costs.
Not everyone has suppliers and costs figured out, and that could be why you want to work with a food scientist. Again, totally makes sense.
However, if you do, define some parameters:
1. What is the ideal cost per serving or per container?
2. Are you committed to working with only a certain supplier (or manufacturer)?
If there are suppliers you are already working with, it is important to connect your contact with your food scientist. There are inevitable technical questions and document requests, and accessible communication is key to quick project turn-arounds.
Shelf-life is industry terminology for expiration date. How long and under what conditions is your product safe and guaranteed?
Know what your current product shelf-life is, where you’d like it to be, as well as what processing measures you’re comfortable with. For instance, you can significantly increase product shelf-life with ultra-high temperature processing (aka ultra-pasteurization)… but is that what you want?
Generally, the longer the shelf-life, the better. The reason is in part due to distribution.
Think about this for example:
Your product is produced and sealed. From point of seal (and proper storage), it is good for a period of 60 days (2 months). That may seem ideal considering nothing in one’s fridge normally lasts as long as 60 days. However, your product will be produced in large quantities (likely based on the minimum order of a co-manufacturer, though ultimately based on keeping prices down per unit produced).
Once your product is produced, it’s stored for some period of time until a truck (or other means of transport) picks up and delivers your product to its next location – sometimes, a distribution center. Let’s say this takes 1 week.
Your product will set in a distribution center for another period of time, until a truck picks up and delivers your product to its next location – such as a grocery retailer. Again, let’s say this takes 1 week.
Once your product is on store shelves, your consumer has to purchase it. At best, they now have up to 46 days (46 days = 60 days – 2 weeks) from point of purchase. But, what if your products sat for 2 weeks before someone purchased it, and then, they wait another 1 week to open it? That now brings your product’s guarantee to a window of 25 days (3-4 weeks) at best.
Will this inhibit your customer from stock-piling your product? If your customer consumes an expired product and is dissatisfied, will they ever repeat a purchase?
A part of the problem is, consumer behavior is rather unpredictable, and your new product’s likelihood of being selected is low (at least in the very beginning). And so, the higher the shelf-life, the better.
5. Timeline & budget.
I’ve got a problem swallowing the word “impossible.” Perhaps it’s because in my experiences, I’ve heard that or even said that – and at the end of the day, someone was wrong.
Knowing what you want for project deliverables is important, but further to that, is knowing how quickly and your budget.
Asking to do something that isn’t yet mainstream does not mean something is impossible, it just asks, are you willing to invest time and resources to explore it? If so, what are your limits?
It’s not an easy task establishing either timeline or budget (especially as a start-up). My suggestion is to work backwards from a deadline for sell-by date. It’s not uncommonly the case someone wants to launch in time for a retailer’s review cycle, a major tradeshow, or a major holiday.
Not all food scientists are excellent project managers, but if you give them one to abide by, you’ll both be better because of it. By the way, I happen to love Gantt Charts, and I make them for every single project. 😉
Food scientists can be incredibly creative people. But creativity is often born from limitations and parameters, and understanding the space one has to work with.
Understanding your needs, the expected end-result of working with a food scientist, and establishing “deal breakers” are a must for your project to be executed successfully and on time.
If you’re still not sure if you should hire someone, here’s a very simple thought experiment (for a food scientist or any other service):
When you don’t know how to do something, you can figure it out or hire someone. Two very straight-forward options.
If you’re wondering if it’s something you should figure out, my advice is to think of the task at hand.
Does it align with this mindset?...
“I’m not good at this yet, but I’m going to spend all my time and energy getting good at this, and I can do it fast.”
If not, it is worth the priority of figuring out how to afford it – because it’s something worth outsourcing (at least eventually) in order for you to be the best at what you do.
MJ is a Food Scientist & Consultant specializing in functional, plant-based product development. She brings a combined knowledge in the B2B and B2C worlds of food industry and a multifaceted background in R&D, technical sales, and project management.
She's on a mission to make food & its science approachable, and a plant-forward diet practical. You can email her with your questions, inquiries, & plant-based woes