Maintaining Taste Consistency While Scaling Your Food Business

Are you caught between the positive growth of your business while struggling to deliver the experience your customers fell in love with in the first place? Then read on! This article will help you get from point A to point B on Savory Street.

As you know all too well, multiplying that special experience is not as simple as taking a recipe, then doubling and tripling it. There are many considerations to take into account while scaling your production. There are many well-known cases where “there’s just something about that something that makes that something unique and you need to ensure you get that something right.”

Imagine the example of New York bagels.

Many people (especially New Yorkers) suggest that it is impossible to truly recreate New York bagels anywhere else in the world. Why is that? Certainly, the recipe has been shared outside of New York. Some say it is the water, although it has been stated that “the water thing” is a bit of an urban myth about NY bagels. But whatever it is that makes these exact bagels difficult to replicate speaks to the delicacy of food production. There are plenty of businesses that have tried to move or scale their food production, only to discover that it was something about the environment (Humidity? Terroir?) that was the “magic” ingredient.

Let’s dissect some current best practices across the production cycle, while “tastefully” slaughtering misperceptions to give insight into how you might scale your food business while maintaining taste consistency.

Sourcing

If there’s one thing cacao can teach all food business owners, it’s that no matter how consistent your sourcing is, or how particular you are about where you get your ingredients from, it’s pretty much impossible to have complete consistency in the output. However, in spite of that annoying reality, there are many things you do to help mitigate this issue.

Looking at the example of the food supply chain below, it’s immediately clear just HOW complex food sourcing can be. Though not all sourcing will be so complicated, it’s incredibly important to be aware of all of the possible variables in your process. Changes to any one of these variables in the chain will have a ripple effect all the way down the line to affect the outcome of your product. For example, if something happens to the grain supplier that provides the feed to the farms that provide the beef that goes into your “Organic, Grain Fed, Frozen Beef Patties”, this may affect the taste of the final product.

Though it’s nearly impossible to control the entire supply chain of ingredients back to the source (even with blockchain technology, it’s not completely solved), you do want to be aware of the complexities and their effects. Understanding this will help you better select suppliers – ones that are well managed and transparent – that are most likely to provide you with the consistent ingredients you seek.

Here are some quick tips for better ingredient sourcing:

  • Have a backup supplier (or suppliers) that you’ve vetted and can trust in case something happens to your main one
  • Find suppliers that have fewer steps removed from the source (less chance of something going wrong through the supply chain)
  • Regularly and clearly communicate with your supplier to ensure their capacity can meet your demands
  • For new ingredients, work with a couple different suppliers first to find the best match for your needs
  • Learn and understand how your supplier manages their supply chain process and what step they are in it, after all, the “product is in the process”!

Recipe Multiples

Your unique recipe is what makes a unique product. First, there’s the process of perfecting the recipe for yourself and then you need to scale it. The ability to measure your process for product creation and then standardize it (right down to the drops of water needed) is where many factors can affect the output.

Restaurant chains are a great model for how to standardize and scale a recipe. Maintaining taste consistency across restaurant locations isn’t all that easy. There are seemingly endless new factors to consider for every new restaurant, including position and integration in the supply chain, the environment, consistency of storage equipment, correctly trained staff, and the list goes on.

Here are some steps restaurants take in ensuring the consistency of their recipe for scaled production (recreated from “Steps to Standardize a Recipe”):

  • Ensure all ingredients are listed correctly, and by the brand of ingredient (if specific)
  • Ensure that all listed ingredients have specifically stated amounts in weight or volume, taking into consideration different metric systems
  • Check that the order of ingredients is the same as how was used in the preparation
  • Directions for preparation/cooking are 100% accurate and listed in the order of process
  • Ensure the time and temperatures are listed clearly, taking into consideration the different types of cooking methods that may be used, not to mention the utensils!
  • Prepare, and determine measurement yields and specific amounts per serving
  • Evaluate, scrutinize, and ensure the process is repeatable at scale
  • Train your teams on the above process and your taste judges on the correct results

Manufacturing

When it comes to reproducing your recipe at scale, manufacturing is the part of the cycle that needs the most thorough consideration. Everything from machinery and factory location to on-site testing to the scientific practices behind maintaining shelf life must be taken into consideration.

Where your manufacturing facilities are located can have a surprising effect on your ability to ensure product quality. Take Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as an example. This company went to extreme measures to ensure their beer coming from their breweries in North Carolina taste the same as the beer from the original location in California. After over 15-years of testing and building taste consistency between the breweries, their brewmasters are finally satisfied with the results, stating that the beers are “often” indistinguishable. Through weekly conference calls, where highly trained staff test samples shipped from the different locations, notes are compared and needed adjustments are made. Through ongoing feedback, they continuously improve the consistency of the product.

Other considerations worth addressing in the manufacturing process are the many scientific principles that go into ensuring consistency. For example, survival analysis has been used in recent years to better understand how time affects the sensory experience of food products. Survival analysis is the understanding of the amount of time it takes for a certain event to take place, usually events of expiration or deterioration.

This concept has been applied to determining the time in which it takes for products to become defective from a sensory standpoint, such as determining the shelf life of taste and better understanding how long it takes for that product’s taste to change.

Packaging

The packaging process can be where you have the opportunity to showcase your brand’s personality while maintaining the safety and quality standards of your product. It’s also your brand’s opportunity to figure out the best way to enhance the consumers’ sensory experience while selecting and/or consuming your product. Interestingly, the packaging plays a big role in maintaining taste as well. Everything from the material to the color of the container can play a role in the taste your product will have when it reaches your consumers.

Have you ever sipped something in a closed container thinking it was something other than what it actually was? You might have experienced some surprise when realizing that it was something you were very familiar with and wondered why you couldn’t recognize the taste. This is a trick of the mind! Studies have shown that the colors and materials of packaging can actually influence our expectations and further change the taste we experience.

Take, for example, this study of how packaging influenced taste perceptions in children. It studied the preferences of the children based on various qualities of the packaging, such as color or images. The study found many indications that the packaging influenced the childrens’ perceptions of taste. The results showed that 88% of the children tested experienced a taste-placebo effect when taste testing identical products that were in different packaging, e.g. with or without cartoon images. Children experiencing the placebo effect indicated a high preference for the flavor of the products that had cartoon images even though it was the same product. This indicated very strongly that the images swayed their taste perception.

Insights like these can not only help us understand why our taste can get so tripped up and confused, but can also provide a ton of valuable information into better packaging practices. Taking into consideration these many idiosyncrasies of the packaging and other steps in the production cycle, can help you better scale the operations of your food business in a way that maintains the taste of your product.

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