A trial run is a step in the R&D process just before commercialized production. It’s a time to test a theoretical process, scaling to larger quantities than a benchtop or kitchen setting. Here are 5 things you can do to prepare and make the most of it.
This article is based on the premise you have a formulation or set of formulations in place, and need to test this formulation's performance at a larger scale.
1. Identify quantity.
Identify how many units you are producing, and further, how many scenarios.
Most things don’t work according to plan, and it’s important to be ready with a Plan B, C, or even D in case the unexpected happens.
Determining how much you would like to produce (considering various scenarios), will determine not only how much of each ingredient you will need, or the number of packaging units, but will be a crucial piece in locating the right facility.
2. Validate trial run facility.
Every facility operates under a different set of rules; some more flexible than others. In deciding on your facility, communicate how many units you plan to produce (and what that translates to in pounds). Many operators have minimum order quantities (MOQs), where they do not accept projects under a certain threshold.
Outside of quantity, a few other questions to ask of a facility include:
a. Is this a free-from facility of any food allergens?
* This is a crucial step in knowing if your end-product is the right fit, or your ingredients. Facilities are commonly peanut-free, and require that ingredients received do not contain peanut products nor be directly manufactured with them.
b. What are your costs per day?
* Costs are not always as clear-cut as a daily rate. Rates depend in part on equipment being used, run time, and the number of employees required; it’s valuable to know the breakdown.
c. What is your schedule lead time?
* Know how far in advance you need to make a decision to secure a place on their calendar, further, in the case you may have to cancel. Some facilities are flexible with a two-week advanced notice (for cancellations) and won’t charge an additional fee. However, every facility operates differently. When securing a date, be sure to give yourself enough time to coordinate the receipt of ingredients and other product orders (these companies also have lead times).
d. Do you offer food grade warehousing?
* Likely they don’t, which means you will have to coordinate shipments to and from the facility. In that case, be sure to ask the facility if they have a loading dock or forklift; these are necessary in loading and unloading pallets of product.
3. Order products.
Ingredient orders for trial runs are often below a supplier’s MOQ, and are sometimes sold at a premium to the customer. Communicate with your supplier the quantity you need, making a note this will be for R&D purposes. Products will generally be shipped via UPS, FedEx, or DHL services. To speed communications, in one email you should be able to communicate:
- Quantity and price per unit (lb, kg, bag, etc.) inquiry
- Shipping rate and carrier
- Shipping account number and billing zip code
With this information, you should be able to generate a P.O. (Purchase Order). This is a pre-invoice document with item(s), quantity, and pricing information, as well as terms and details including shipping address, contact information, shipping account number and billing zip code.
Be aware of lead times for products, and acknowledge they will vary by supplier. Depending on the size of your ingredient/product order, suppliers may need up to 4 to 6 weeks for delivery of items not routinely stocked or in inventory.
For each food ingredient, you will also need to make the following documentation requests:
a. Certificate of Analysis (COA)
b. Safety Data Sheet (SDS)
c. Nutritional information
e. Allergens statement
f. Certifications* may include Kosher, Organic, Non-GMO, etc.
* This ties directly to question 1 in “Part 2: Validate a trial run facility.” Provided the answer from the facility, you will need to make individual document requests for their purposes, as well as any product claims specific to what you’re producing.
4. Communicate with all parties.
The people involved in a trial run can vary, but mainly whittle down to at least these parties:
- Trial run facility
- Freight coordinator
- Quality Assurance
The trial run facility will communicate what you need in advance of product arriving (see documentation requests). As a courtesy, it’s nice to provide a heads up of when product will arrive. You can do this by providing a BOL (Bill of Lading) to the trial run facility after receiving it from your freight coordinator. Lastly, the trial run facility will need a packing slip to double-check product arrival in alignment with its documentation.
The freight coordinator will need to know a few things to generate a quote. Have this information