A Closer Look at Contract Manufacturing

Contract product development services provide a starting point or the full solution for your next great food product.

By David Phillips, Technical Editor

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"We want to free up our customers to do what they do best: consumer research, marketing and brand management," says Bob Scalia, senior vice president of strategy for Hearthside. Perhaps Hearthside's biggest asset and value-add, he says, is shortening time to market.

Although it's positioned as a contract manufacturer, not a contract R&D service, "We're working with the R&D teams of many significant branded food processors in America," says Scalia.
Salmon says the emergence of culinology has made a huge difference in how food processors develop products.

“It's great having a chef on staff,” he says. "I can't believe we did what we did in the old days without having that.”

Mattson's Stuckey says some clients like to have a defined process to come to, but some are more likely to choose specific services.

“Some of our smaller clients don’t need or want a complicated 'set' process,” she says. “For them, we can start ideating internally or developing protocepts without a lot of input,” she says. “Some of our larger multinational clients need a more rigorous process to enable buy-in across global markets and multidisciplinary teams. So, we offer both.”

When asked about what makes product development hard, Stuckey's answer is different from Salmon's.

“Product development is easy,” she says. “It’s the scale up and commercialization part that’s hard! I always say this is the hardest thing we do. But it’s also the hardest thing anyone in the industry does.”

Not surprisingly, sometimes great ideas run up against harsh reality. A great idea is not so great if it won't work on the plant floor, or if the cost of ingredients makes it unrealistic. But in today's consumer environment, there is also room to reconsider cost concerns, Stuckey claims.

“Our job is harder when we’re working against a pre-set cost of ingredients,” she says. “This really constrains development. If our client gives us what we think is an unrealistic cost target, we’ll show them the product that delivers on that target. But we’ll also show them something that we feel the consumer wants to buy. Often, this is all it takes to make a point: It doesn’t matter that you’ve hit your SRP [suggested retail price] if consumers don’t want to eat your product. And consumers are willing to pay more these days for what they consider a good value.”

The National Food Lab, Livermore, Calif., is a testing lab and process authority that has been working with the food industry for more than 35-years. The NFL is an industry leader in aseptic, retort, and hot fill processing, and recognized as a leading authority in filings with the FDA.

In addition, NFL also provides new product development services that include:

  • Product Reformulation & Cost Reduction
  • Culinary Ideation & Consulting
  • Culinary Concepts & Gold Standard Prototyping
  • Technical Feasibility
  • Ingredient Applications
  • Shelf Life Evaluation
  • Process Development & Evaluation
  • Sample Production for Sales & Consumer Tests
  • Scale-Up and Commercialization

While contract product development is not likely to cause food manufacturers to abandon the development of their own R&D capabilities it continues to provide a complementary service.

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