A tasteful guide to food product development

Ever wondered how your favorite snack came to be? Trying to make sure your food product concept is a hit with your target market? Well you’re in the right place!

In this article, we dive right into that food product development process. We’ll run through the steps to take, what challenges you’ll face and what else to consider when creating a new food brand or products, so you won’t bite off more than you can chew. Hungry to learn more?

What is food product development?

Food product development is a process that involves a load of crucial steps ideation, ingredient selection, taste testing, packaging design, regulatory compliance, marketing strategy and distribution. It’s an iterative process in which food brands search for a balance between product quality, cost-effectiveness, sustainability and consumer appeal to bring a successful product to the market.

Your food product development team

You need more than just a few foodies to make your product a reality. Here’s who you’ll want on your team and why:

  1. Food scientist or technologist: Expert in food chemistry, formulation, food processing and product development.
  2. Chef or culinary professional: Brings culinary creativity and expertise to the team. Probably has great restaurant recommendations.
  3. Regulatory specialist: You’ll be grateful to know a compliance crusader who is knowledgeable in food safety, regulations, labeling requirements and industry standards.
  4. Packaging engineer: Designs and tests packaging to ensure product protection and appeal.
  5. Marketing and design: Develops branding and marketing strategies to bring the product to market. Together with packaging engineers, they come up with genius packaging like these.
  6. Sales and distribution specialist: Identifies the best distribution channels and develops sales strategies to reach consumers.
  7. Financial analyst: ensures the viability and cost-effectiveness of the product.

Ideally, you’ll also have a market researcher on your side. But for many brands, hiring someone specifically for this or outsourcing it is a time-consuming task, and it’s more expensive than it is efficient. If you want to act fast, get relevant results and actionable data, try Attest. You can conduct surveys whenever you want to and get results in mere hours. Moreover, you have access to a dedicated research expert that will help you make the most out of your survey.

Find out whether people will eat up your new food product

With Attest you can reach the people you need—your target market—and find out whether your latest product ideas will be a success. Get reliable consumer insights fast!

Try the concept testing survey template

The stages of food product development

Developing a new food product isn’t something you do overnight. There are plenty of steps to take, and sometimes taking a step back is the best decision. Between all the stages, extensive testing and research should be done to make sure you’re on the right track. Keep in mind that these steps don’t simply follow after each other, some will run simultaneously, other disciplines require jumping back and forth.

1. Food product ideation

Ideas can come from anywhere. Sometimes you pick something up from the market, or a consumer or employee has a great suggestion. But you’ll have to make the idea more specific and ideally test it against other similar ideas.

Big Prawn Co. picked up a signal in the market that led them to develop a new product.

One of the things that concerns us is the statistics about there not being commercially viable fishing stocks left in the oceans by the next 20, 25 years. We asked, ‘can we do more to help people eat a bit less fish by giving them something that is equally as good an alternative?

Claire Evans, Category Manager, Big Prawn Co.

Claire and the team started their new product development process to develop fish-free fingers and burgers. They relied on consumer research to shape the new offering at every step. Using an audience of vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians and flexitarians, they identified what the market was missing, and started creating that.

This shows that developing a new product isn’t always just about creating a new taste. In fact, it might not even be about creating something ‘new’ at all. Find what’s already working well (perhaps using a concept testing survey), and then do it better in terms of sustainability, brand or other aspects.

Big Prawn Co.

2. Market research and validating your product concept

From the ideation phase to the moment you start selling, there are all kinds of market research you could be doing. Taking decisions based on assumptions can create results that leave a bad taste in the mouth and cost you tons of time and money. You can use different types of market research to check you’re on the right track and to make your new food product your best yet. These are the ones we don’t recommend skipping.

Research competitor products

Yours won’t be the only candy bar on the shelves, so get to know your neighbors. Examine the competition to understand their products, marketing strategies, and target market. This will help you avoid their mistakes, and learn from their successes.

Consumer research

Taste is a very personal thing, so get to know your target market. Survey your target audience to understand their preferences, needs and opinions about your product, but also dive into their personality, lifestyle and more—it’s surprising how much affects people’s buying decisions. You could find out useful things for your marketing campaigns to really connect with them!

Test your (creative) concepts

Don’t just test flavors, test creative assets as well. From packaging to campaigns: with Attest you can determine which choices are the most effective and appeal most to your target audience.

Measure the effects on your brand health

What has this new product done for your reputation? How easily do people link it to your brand? Has it changed their perception of your brand, or make you more famous? With brand health surveys, you can find out how your new food product has impacted your brand.

3. Formulation

Time to put your culinary skills to the test. In this step, you’ll be creating the perfect recipe. Selecting the ingredients, a nutritional analysis, finding out how you can scale up your recipe and more: this is a crucial step—one where regulations and compliance come into play.

4. Consumer testing

You’ve probably already tested simplified versions of the products before, but now it’s time for the real deal. You’re bringing taste and marketing together to find out if consumers like your product, or not!

But consumer testing isn’t only about finding out if customers like it or not. You can use the data you gather to get your products placed in stores. That’s what Big Prawn Co. did, and it got them into Waitrose.

We literally put the survey data into the initial sales pitch as a key element as to why this is suitable to launch in your store. And because I asked where people shop, I was able to filter it and dedicate a survey specifically to Waitrose.

Claire Evans, Category Manager, Big Prawn Co.

5. Processing

Even when people are raving about a product in the research data, that doesn’t mean it’s actually feasible to eventually produce and market it on a larger scale. This is where food science comes in. One of the main things food technologists test in this phase is if a long enough product shelf life can be established. You might play around with different types of processing equipment and producers at this point.

6. Commercialization

If you want to approach the commercialization phase right, don’t just let a team of creatives dive into names and packaging styles. You guessed it: find out what your target market would like to see and what works for them. Carry out product research to see what other competitive products are already out there, and find out how your new products can do it better. Concept testing is a great tool to validate whether your creative ideas are also commercially viable. You can test packaging design, measure several brand health metrics and even see what the impact of launching a new product is on your overall brand health.

Challenges of food product development

It’s not all chocolates and gummy bears behind the scenes of food product development. Behind every bite, there are numerous challenges food brands face when creating new products. There are the obvious ones like food safety, but here are some other obstacles you might not think about while snacking away:

Costs and pricing

There’s a real cost conundrum when creating food products. Margins can be small and if prices of ingredients change, this could have huge consequences for a food brand. Make sure you test enough scenarios and do thorough pricing research to find the sweet spot for your price point.

Pro tip: as useful as it can be during your consumer testing, remember that pricing testing can be an imprecise science. There’s nothing quite like looking at a product in a store, alongside other products and in the context of that shoppers economic circumstances—answering a price testing survey online will always lack a bit of that context.

Sustainability and ingredient sourcing

Consumers are more critical than ever, and finding sustainably sourced ingredients can also be a plus for times when your key ingredients are hard to get by. Make sure you carefully select the right ingredients and the right suppliers, by keeping an eye on the future and the environmental impact.

Regulatory hurdles

Navigating the world of food regulations is like trying to make it through Charlie’s Chocolate Factory without having to sit through an Oompa-Loompa concert nobody asked for. From food safety standards to labeling requirements, there are a lot of boxes to tick in any part of the process. Make sure you’re on top of this from the very first step. Think ahead!

How brands can evolve and adapt to the HFSS crackdown

A great example of just how challenging it can be, comes from Mallow & Marsh. The premium confectionary brand is facing strict reforms for high-fat, sales and sugar foods.

An overcrowded market

A quick walk through the supermarket says it all: there’s a smorgasbord of existing products and brands out there in almost any category across the food industry. That doesn’t mean the market you’re eying is too saturated for your product, though! If you can develop a food product that is new and appeals to the ever-changing wishes of consumers, you will be able to land in their shopping basket. It all boils down to doing enough market research, consumer testing and asking critical questions.

In need of some inspiration? Check out our sample survey questions for new food product development. Or if you’re ready to go, we have a market analysis survey template that’s sure to help you stand out from the crowd.

Use a secret ingredient: market research surveys

New product development is a creative process, but ideally, also backed by data. That’s what our market research tools help you get.

If you identify the need for a tasty new food product concept and start developing something based on what your ideal consumer really wants, you’re setting yourself up for success.

Need help setting up a survey for your new food product? Check out Attest. We’ll supply you with a dedicated research expert who will make sure you’re asking the right questions, to the right people. It’s a recipe for success, wink wink.

Get started with example survey questions

Our in-house research experts have created this set of sample survey questions to help you get genuinely useful insights about your new food product!

See the questions

Nick White

Customer Research Lead 

Nick joined Attest in 2021, with more than 10 years' experience in market research and consumer insights on both agency and brand sides. As part of the Customer Research Team team, Nick takes a hands-on role supporting customers uncover insights and opportunities for growth.

See all articles by Nick