By Rachel Zemser –

I often get start up companies coming to me with their handmade prototypes that they would like to scale into something that can be commercialized. Their early prototypes are usually made with ingredients that they bought at their local supermarket. They are ill advised to have hand chopped fresh fruit or used a “seasoning blend” that they bought in bulk at Whole Foods or used a supermarket brand of Pectin.

Please don’t do this. Perhaps it’s okay when you are at your VERY early ideation stage, and want to create gold standard concepts; however, using ingredients from supermarkets is never a good idea when you are making prototypes to show investors or potential co-packers. Here are the reasons why:

1. Inconsistencies in Functional Ingredients: In the food industry, ingredients such as xanthan, pectin and carrageenan come in many different forms. There are Alpha and Lambda versions, high and low methoxy, and lots of other specific varieties, each of which has a specific function that works well in certain food environments. The store bought version is typically generic and designed to work more or less in a variety of applications. A better approach is to contact a legitimate hydrocolloid manufacturer and ask for a sample of gum that fits your application. Companies like TIC Gums and Ingredion have websites and experts on hand to assist you.

2. Ingredients with Unknown “Formulas:” Using a jalapeno jam or a spice blend in your recipe will make it difficult to recreate your recipe later on. The fresh jalapeno salsa you bought at the deli is only available at THAT deli. A better approach is to create your own “sub” recipe of salsa and document the amount of everything that’s in it.

3. High End Ingredients: Many ingredients that have less expensive siblings that you can use. Try to find a more common similar substitute whenever possible. For example, heirloom tomatoes are beautiful, but buying a truckload to make a heirloom tomato salsa would be very expensive and make your finished product unaffordable. Sometimes you have to just bite the bullet and use a more generic mainstream version.

4. Exotic Ingredients: Greek honey made from thyme flowers is great, but you may have to settle for a regular clover honey variant. Greek honey is expensive and not affordable at the industrial level. When you start your recipe creation, don’t start with the exotic stuff, use the more common versions at all times.

Your early stage R&D work is going to be time consuming. You will be making multiple batches in a kitchen, and getting your feedback from family and friends. You want to make something that is as close to what you CAN make (in a manufacturing plant) as possible.

Find a food science consultant to help you source out industrial ingredients that are affordable and available in bulk. It will save you time and money in the long run.

By Rachel Zemser, MS, CCS
650/ 678-0997
Primary Focus: As Founder and CEO of A La Carte Connections, LLC, Rachel travels throughout the U.S. working with both large and small startup companies. She assists them with their food science and R&D. Rachel is a member of the Institute of Food Technologists and the Restaurant Chefs Association. Rachel knows specialty food processing (making, producing, manufacturing)! And she is a proud Sponsor of Food Entrepreneur Magazine.