How a new product is developed in the laboratory
How does the Product Development team start?
Sometimes the new recipe can be based on something Heinz Wattie's already do. A strawberry and apricot jam might use the same basic recipe as strawberry jam with the addition of apricots. Sometimes it is completely new, such as a creamy bacon sauce in a pouch.
For something new, the Product Development team may use recipe books, try competitor's products and look at their ingredient list, or sometimes they may simply make a new recipe up. Packaging Development are consulted for the most suitable type of can, pouch, plastic bag size, PCU (portion control unit which is a single serve unit, such as the butter that you get on an airline) material or plastic/glass bottle for the product (this is discussed when determining the feasibility of the product, but confirmed once development starts). The Thermal Processing Department are consulted to determine the critical factors affecting the cooking of the product and to ensure the product will be safe (that is, does not contain any microbes that cause sickness).
How do they make it in the kitchen?
Small samples are made in the Product Development Laboratory, in a kitchen using ordinary utensils to mix and stir. Some ingredients, such as spices, sugar, salt, vegetables, are the same as you might use at home. Other ingredients are specially modified or refined for use in processed food, such as modified starch, which can withstand high temperatures and high acidity, where ordinary flour or cornflour cannot. Sometimes flavours are added to improve the flavour of the product. In the case of pet food, vitamins and minerals must be added and calculations carried out to ensure that each recipe is a complete and balanced feed, because for some animals, such as guide dogs in training, our products are their sole source of nutrition. All ingredients are carefully weighed and recorded. The small batches are made to a specific volume or weight.
The Product Development team tries to imitate the factory as closely as possible throughout the development of the product by stirring with spoons, mixing dry ingredients with water with a mini 'Silverson' (the brand name of an industrial machine manufacturer – in this case this refers to a mixing machine) and imitating a Liquiverter (an industrial blender) with a kitchen whizz. Sometimes even using a whisk to imitate the effect the pump would have on a product. If homogenising, steam injection heating, or larger kettles (23, 40, 100 or 250 litres) are required, the Heinz Wattie'spilot plant has small-scale versions of the factory. The same tests that are performed in the factory are performed in the lab – consistency or thickness, pH or acidity, brix (dissolved solids), salt levels.
Pilot plant cooking
How is the packaging done?
Once the small batch is prepared, the product is filled into the correct packaging – a can, bottle, polythene bag, pouch or PCU. The Heinz Wattie's Product Development team has: a machine that puts the lids (caps) on the cans; a heat sealer for pouches and plastic bags; an iron for induction seals on bottles and for heat sealing PCU foil – yes, that is an ordinary old household iron.
And the processing?
Products that only require cooling are cooled in a bucket or sink of cold running water. Products that need a retort or cooker process are processed in a pilot plant retort. The pilot plant retort is a mini version of a factory retort that can do steam or hot water processes and also has an attachment to imitate a continuous cooker. The retort processes are monitored to ensure the product is sufficiently sterilised just like the factory.
What happens next?
Very rarely is the first sample good enough to proceed with to the next stage. Ingredients may be added or taken out, quantities of ingredients may be changed, and the process may be made longer or shorter (still ensuring a safe thermal process).
Many samples are sent to Marketing or the customer to get stakeholder feedback and make improvements. The number of samples that go back and forth can vary enormously from less than five up to more than 50! The same steps are done each time to ensure the Product Development team are getting a good idea of how consistent the test results are and how reliable the thermal process is. This helps to build up enough results to set specifications for the factory.
Throughout the development, the costing is updated to ensure Heinz Wattie'scan still make a profitable product.
Once the product is approved by Marketing or the customer, the Product Development team can move to the next stage.