Avoiding bumps — and booms — in beverage innovation

by Jeff Gelski
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James S. Tonkin was able to place Zico coconut water in yoga studios in New York City.
James S. Tonkin was able to place Zico coconut water in yoga studios in New York City.

ORLANDO, FLA. – The right combination of on-trend ingredients, appropriate packaging and a precise price-point may lead to an explosion in sales for a beverage product launch. The wrong combination may lead to problems, such as a product literally exploding.

James S. Tonkin had an explosion story to tell in an April 20 presentation at Ingredient Marketplace in Orlando. Mr. Tonkin, the founder and president of Healthy Brand Builders, a consulting company in Scottsdale, Ariz., helped in developing a new beverage years ago that contained sparkling water, white grape juice and natural flavors.

Selling the beverage in a can proved to be a poor choice. The product fermented and exploded on retail shelves, Mr. Tonkin said. Parts of the beverage even stuck to ceiling tiles.

He told success stories as well. Mr. Tonkin became aware of Zico coconut water’s potential as early as 2004, began working with that company and successfully pitched the drink to yoga studios in New York City. The Coca-Cola Co. eventually bought Zico Beverages, L.L.C. in 2013.

Research and development should work in partnership with marketing on beverage product development, Mr. Tonkin added.

Know the end before starting

The costs of such components as ingredients, packaging and tolling fees/manufacturing costs all should be taken into account when developing a product, said Debbie Wildrick, chief strategy officer for MetaBrand, L.L.C., Edison, N.J., which provides turn-key services in natural and organic product development. A company may wish to sell an organic beverage that contains botanicals for $1.99, but input costs may keep that from happening.

The costs of such components as ingredients, packaging and tolling fees/manufacturing costs all should be taken into account when developing a new beverage, says Debbie Wildrick, chief strategy officer for MetaBrand, L.L.C.
The costs of such components as ingredients, packaging and tolling fees/manufacturing costs all should be taken into account when developing a new beverage, says Debbie Wildrick, chief strategy officer for MetaBrand, L.L.C.

“We have to know what the end is before we can even start at the beginning,” said Ms. Wildrick, who worked as a director of beverages for 7-Eleven from 2002-07. “That’s why we have to know about route to market.”

She gave advice on high pressure processing (h.p.p.), which provides such benefits as pathogen destruction, pasteurization within a product’s packaging and shelf life extension.

“Everybody thinks that high pressure processing is king,” Ms. Wildrick said. “It does not put any heat to the product. It does not have any real degradation of nutrients. As a matter of fact, it can even enhance fruits and vegetables from a look and feel perspective.”

Cost is a factor. High pressure processing may add 25 cents per bottle to the cost of processing, she said.

“So if you think of the price-point on fresh juices today that are in the $4.99 to $8.99 (range), it has a lot to do with the fact that not only does it take a whole lot of vegetables to get that cold-pressed effect, but it’s also very expensive to h.p.p.,” she said.

High pressure processing limits what type of packaging a company may use, too, she said.

Beware of chemical reactions

A tar-like substance was a problem for Jessica Kidwell, senior director, product development and applications for Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago. She related a case where, after a tea product with caffeine in it got to production scale, a tar-like substance began to form at the bottom. An analysis found the ingredients from the tea reacted with the caffeine to create the substance. The problem led to a six-month delay in taking the product to market.

Taking out sugar in a product may require a company to add in three more ingredients, says Jessica Kidwell, senior director, product development and applications for Archer Daniels Midland Co.
Taking out sugar in a product may require a company to add in three more ingredients, says Jessica Kidwell, senior director, product development and applications for Archer Daniels Midland Co.

Plant-based proteins, sugar reduction and vitamin fortification all may pose challenges in beverage product development as well, Ms. Kidwell said. Pea, soy or rice protein may bring off-notes, causing products to have a beany or cardboard taste. Modification tools such as natural flavors may work in this instance, Ms. Kidwell said.

The texture of products with plant-based protein may be chalky or gritty.

“You may need to blend your proteins together,” she said.

While natural high-intensity sweeteners increasingly are used to replace sugar in beverages, fiber sources such as Fibersol may add back in body and mouthfeel, Ms. Kidwell said. Taking out sugar in a product may require a company to add in three more ingredients, which could lead to an undesirable longer ingredient list.

Fortifying beverages potentially may cause color problems, Ms. Kidwell said, giving the example of vitamin C possibly degrading any red colors in the product. 
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