From food concept to reality – twelve hot tips

I’m often approached by new businesses who recognise my skill set which extends beyond brand design and packaging into research, product development, business planning and manufacturing – expertise which has transitioned many ideas from food concept to reality.  Importantly, ensuring an idea has legs and the potential for commercial success.

Having what seems to be a unique idea is a fantastic start, but my proven process has been designed to determine the true potential of an idea, exploring also the opportunities for concept optimisation and future proofing.

Today, no product sector is devoid of established products and whilst in the last Millennium there were numerous brands for whom there was no competition, that is no longer the case with every product having to compete to attract consumers, all of whom have a myriad of choice.

To be successful in the 21st century, products and brands have to deliver benefits and an experience which is superior to existing products – only by doing so will your product be viewed as attractive by consumers and persuade retailers to delist an existing product and replace it with yours.

And if you’re selling online, whilst the challenge of securing retail space doesn’t apply, none the less your product and brand has to create a relationship with potential customers whereby they value your idea over and above existing brands and as a consequence, change their purchasing behaviour.

1. Opportunity and feasibility
If your product appears to be unique, you may think that because nothing exists in the market that no one has ever thought of it.  Whilst this might be the case, it may be that others had explored the idea before you and found that it wasn’t possible to commercialise the idea due to manufacturing constraints or that it was simply too expensive to produce. 

Or indeed that there simply wasn’t a demand for the idea.  However consumer needs and market opportunities are always changing so you may want to seek expert help early on to help you assess its potential.  Before you do so undertake internet searches, not just in your home country but worldwide – see if you can find any evidence of a similar or identical product having been produced previously and assess whether they are on sale today.

2. Demand
Get friends and family to sample your products, even though your commercial product may differ.  You need to assess quickly and at zero cost whether it is worth progressing further.  And ask them to give you truthful rather than kind feedback – not just telling you what they think you want to hear.

3. Research
Make online searches to find relevant market data for your idea.  If you live in the UK, then the British Library in London provides access to a huge raft of information free of charge whereas purchasing the same data can cost thousands of pounds.  Attend trade shows to increase your knowledge of the food and drink sector and to see the latest ideas.

There are a swathe of food and drink events in most countries and not only will you increase your understanding of the sector by attending them, but they’re great for meeting useful contacts too.  And don’t be worried about sharing your idea with others because you’re worried they might run off and do it instead.  In my experience this doesn’t happen and you are more likely to gain from sharing rather than suffer.  However, if you’re concerned share the minimum of information until you have a signed confidentiality document in place.

4. Proof of concept
Next step is to test your initial concept with paying customers.  You don’t need final packaging or branding to do this but you do need to comply with trading standards requirements re labelling and in particular, allergens.  Local markets, food festivals and farmer’s markets are perfect for this. You’ll get product feedback (particularly if you’re sampling) and you’ll be able to talk to customers about price too.  But a word of warning on this one.  Selling products at these events invariably sees customers willing to pay a higher price than they will as part of their weekly shop. So you need to do your homework on likely price points in retail.

5. Minimum viable product
Now you’re ready to take your learnings from your sales activity and use this to help you fully define your product, brand and packaging.  Competitor analysis and market mapping are key at this stage, as is being confident about your proposed selling price vs your competitors. And this is the time to pad out your initial business plan with robust numbers for scaling up.

You need to be clear about your gross margin targets and what retailers will expect across the whole range of independent, speciality, wholesale, food service and mainstream retail channels.  And if launching online, you need to ensure that you take advantage of retailer margins within your selling price.  This is really important because retailers will expect you to be comparatively more expensive online –  and you don’t want to discover that you don’t have adequate margin to give them a better price.

6. Plan
You will need to make sure you have the funds required to develop your idea and then to take it to market. You’ll need to develop a detailed cost model ensuring that you’ve included all costs associated with developing and manufacturing your product ensuring that you’ve included all ingredients costs, manufacturing costs, transport and logistics costs, a profit for you and margin for wholesales and/or retailers if you’re not selling online. By now, you should have a roust business plan including P&L and cashflow forecasts for at least 24 months.

Irrespective of whether you’re selling online or in retail you will need funds for marketing support to create awareness and drive demand – sales won’t happen if potential customers aren’t aware of you. And my rule of thumb for working capital purposes is that you will need funds equivalent to three months turnover if you’re selling through retail and 2 months if selling online.

7. Identify expert partners
Start your search for the expert help you’ll need for the process of making your idea a reality.  At this stage you may want to start approaching companies to develop product samples or manufacturers but it’s far better to look towards brand innovation businesses that can help you fully scope your project and support you through their broader expertise. You may also well need help in relation to approved ingredients and all the various compliance issues surrounding food and drink manufacturing, including the very important aspect of food safety and accurate and legal packaging labelling.

There may be other things to consider before you start this stage of work, and businesses such as these are best placed to help and guide you through all the various stages. Creating a robust product brief in tandem with a brand strategy and market opportunity evaluation are proven to lead to success. And it’s key to have someone outside your business with the knowledge and expertise to question and challenge your thinking and strategy as well as to provide guidance and know-how.

8. Pre-production
You’ll need initial samples which you may be able to prepare yourself or you may need specialist resource but again, an innovation business can help you determine the best way forward and crucially they’ll make sure that you’re including all elements into your preliminary cost model. Ideally, your samples should be made using commercial ingredients which are produced much in the same way, albeit at a very small volume, as your commercial products will be and using the commercial production equipment. If this isn’t done then there is a danger that shelf life tests for example will not provide an accurate indication of product durability.

Getting all the components in place takes time and planning and most manufacturing partners won’t source or store ingredients on your behalf so you may need help with ingredient procurement and just in time supply chain management.

With samples produced, lab tests need to be undertaken to ensure product stability and achievement of the required shelf life, ensuring that discolouration, separation or flavour changes don’t occur during the usable life of your product. This is most challenging for chilled and ambient products but there are a number of things that can be done to maximise longevity during the product development stage.

9. Manufacturing
With your background work complete, now is the time to start to explore potential manufacturing partners. A brand innovation business will be best placed to help you identity the most appropriate suppliers with expertise of similar products and with the ability to pack into your desired packaging format – whether that be jars, bottles, trays, pouches, cartons, bags or indeed a new and novel packaging format – particularly with the increasingly important focus on recyclability and minimisation of environmental impact.

A visit to potential suppliers is the next step and at this point, accurate manufacturing costs and minimum order levels can be determined which can be incorporated into your plan to provide greater detail on your manufacturing cost and selling price. Service level agreements and contracts also need to be considered at this stage in the process.

10. Brand design and packaging
Your brand innovation partner can now use all their background work to design and present appropriate and practical structural packaging solutions and brand ideas. It may be that you have some ideas for your brand name but they will be best placed to assess these, not only in terms of strength of a brand name but also with regard to the legislative aspects of registered trademarks.

It’s really important to ensure that any proposed brand name doesn’t conflict with an existing trademark before commitment is made to costly packaging design and production. Failure to undertake this very important stage can have serious, future consequences.

At worst this could lead to an existing brand asking for you to cease trading and withdraw your products until a resolution is reached.  And there is potential of course that a resolution may not be reached, leaving you faced with the challenge of starting your branding and packaging work again with wasted packaging and product on your hands and a disruption to your sales.  Many brand innovation businesses include brand name creation as part of their services and if you commission this work from them they will undertake additional strategic work at the start of the project to provide a foundation for their name generation work.  

Typically, this part of the process may take up to a month depending on whether you need a UK, European or global brand name.  Either way, they will present brand identity options for your given name or options for created names for your consideration and choice.  

With a brand name chosen, it’s then on to packaging design and many brand innovation businesses will present brand identity options in situ on pack so that you can see your brand as it will appear on your product. They will often provide mock-ups at this stage too and visuals of your product in store.

11. Pre-production samples
Now it’s time to bring all the components together: product, brand design and physical packaging so that you can create a number of samples which are an accurate replication of what will be produced once you place orders with your chosen manufacturer.  Most manufacturers will work with you at this stage to prepare a limited number of pre-production samples and your brand innovation partner will also be able to source packaging samples.

This is an ideal time to build in some consumer testing, giving you an opportunity to gauge reaction to your product, branding and packaging so that any significant feedback can be taken on board before finalisation.

With product prototypes finalised, all your cost elements known and your background research guiding your retail price, you can now present your end product to potential retail stockists and undertake photography for your website and marketing purposes.

12. Place manufacturing order
With retail listings secured or everything in place to launch your online business, packaging/labels and ingredients procurement and manufacturing can all be put in hand.

I’ve very much enjoyed seeing the numerous businesses I’ve advised achieve the commercial success they deserve and if you feel I can help you take your idea from food concept to reality, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

For more information about how we help my clients launch new products take a look at Food Brand Strategist.

And take a look at BoomBod as an example of our work.

If you’d like to explore how we can help you, ping me an email so we can schedule a call.


Call: +44 (0) 207 205 2998 or email today for an initial chat.

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