Choosing A Formulating Partner
by Katie LeClair
As a result of downsizing, cost cutting and streamlining product development, more companies are turning to external contract research and development firms. However, choosing an ideal partner can be a difficult process. Knowing what to look for can mean the difference between a successful product and a failure. When selecting an outside technical partner, you should evaluate the following areas:
A research and development company's reputation is usually a direct outcome of the quality of the work they provide their clients. Learn all you can about a company's work ethics, its commitment to excellence, and its judgment in handling the work in a timely and cost-effective manner. It is extremely important to work with a company that has an independent and unbiased approach.
Quality of Work
Many companies and individuals claim to offer development expertise, which can make the decision process seem overwhelming. The critical issue is what type of work they can produce that meets the objective and time frame of the project. A firm must stand behind the work it has done, be willing to go the bumpy roads of product modifications, and be able to identify and overcome unforeseen challenges to deliver the end result that you expect.
Formulating products that will be successful in the marketplace requires more than fancy packaging with colorful designs. There are many factors that contribute to a successful product and one individual, no matter how smart he/she may be, can address all of the issues.
An external laboratory that takes a team approach to product development has a better chance of identifying and analyzing all of the critical factors. Companies that have team members with expertise in each phase of development will provide a more comprehensive approach to the project. This method will ultimately save time, energy and resources as well as provide solutions to unanticipated obstacles. Product development is a multifaceted task that requires expertise in formulation, sensory evaluation, production scale-up, regulatory and label review, product stability, and quality control. An external laboratory that can provide all of the above services under one roof would be the most ideal and cost-effective candidate.
Turn Around Time
Having an actual product that you can touch and taste is obviously the desired outcome of product development. But what good is it if it takes you longer than your competitor to place it in the market? You will, most likely, have lost potential market share and may now have to implement a more aggressive and expensive marketing plan to catch up.
Working with a qualified external resource should actually save you time and help you get a product to market faster than you might be able to achieve in-house. An independent laboratory can focus on the development of the product with less interruption and will be accountable for delivering a prototype within a specified time frame. If given adequate information, a prototype should be generated within a few weeks. By working with an external firm, a commercially feasible product can be developed in a timely manner.
Perhaps you only need a laboratory that can assist with a specific phase of your development project. In these situations, the flexibility of your outsourcing partner is essential. Some companies do not provide custom-made services to their clients--it's all or nothing. An ideal partner is a contract research and development firm that presents a program meeting your specific needs. You may be interested in their expertise in other areas later; for now they should be willing to provide you with only the services you request.
Often, companies choose to outsource a phase of development because they do not have the internal expertise and resources to handle the work. In some cases, the in-house research and development team is in place; however, they have been focused on their company's core business and have not been involved with new ventures. For example, if a company's focus has been in the nutritional beverage market, penetrating the nutritional bar category will be a totally new venture. To successfully formulate and launch new product categories that are not within a company's core business requires an understanding of the formulation, processing, packaging and quality control aspects of the new category. In addition, a contract manufacturer may need to be identified. In such cases, working with an external firm with a broad understanding of multiple products and processes will make this new venture go more smoothly.
When "wearing several hats" to get the job done, it is difficult to stay up-to-date with industry changes on a continuous basis. Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone kept you informed? Many companies choose to go to an external source because they have this knowledge. Suppose your company has a great product concept but cannot determine which delivery form, process, or packaging would best fit this concept. An outside resource with in-depth knowledge in multiple product categories would be able to bring your idea to life in more than one feasible delivery form, package, and process. This would allow you to visualize several options and optimize the most appropriate one. It is important to be aware of new technologies and innovations in the industry to create better opportunities and to attract a diverse consumer base.
Imagine you have developed a unique product using internal resources and are ready to bring this product to market. Unfortunately, the production phase does not go smoothly. Everyone is frantically trying to determine what went wrong and how it can be fixed. A competent and knowledgeable outsourcing partner can assist during such crunch times. Often, the ideal conditions of the laboratory and test kitchen are not 100 percent transferable to actual manufacturing. Modifications to product or process or both may have to take place right on the plant floor to obtain the same end result. It is important to hire a contract R & D laboratory with trouble-shooting expertise that can assist in identifying and correcting any issues that arise.
Katie LeClair is a manager for food product development projects at Shuster Laboratories, based in Boston. She can be contacted at (800) 444-8705 or e-mail [email protected].