If you take a walk in any supermarket you will see a wide variety of food products on the shelf. These came about as a result of a careful process to designing and developing products with the goal of meeting specific consumer needs. The process is called product development which is one of the important jobs that food scientists do. The steps in product development involves:

  1. Ideation
  2. Prototype creation
  3. Sensory evaluation
  4. Pilot plant testing
  5. Sensory evaluation and product modification
  6. Consumer testing
  7. Finalization of product specification
  8. Market testing


As the name suggest, this is where you come up with the idea for the new product. This is generally done by the marketing team and then communicated to the product development team. It is based on marketing research, analyzing consumer trends, and/or identifying consumer needs based on gaps in the market or weakness in current products on the market.

Prototype Creation

Once the company has a clear idea of what to make they get to work creating a prototype or “gold standard” of what the product will look and taste like. This is done in a test kitchen at the company or in an outside test kitchen facility. Testing on a kitchen-scale prevents wasting of ingredients since it will likely involve a series of trial and error to create the product that is desirable. The prototype development process requires the expertise of a culinologist, that is, someone who is gifted in the culinary arts and also understands food science.

Sensory Evaluation

Sensory evaluation involves tasting of the product to determine its taste, texture, smell, and appearance. This is done by an in-house team during the prototype development stage. It provides valuable feedback to enable modification of the product and finalizing of gold standard.

Pilot Plant Testing

Following establishment of prototype, the product is tested on a larger scale, called a pilot. This is done to simulate commercial production and finalize product specification. This is important since some specifications may change as you scale up the operation. For example you may recognize that cooking a small pot of stew at home for three people may be much different than if you have to prepare the same thing for forty people coming over for Thanksgiving dinner. Cooking times and temperatures, and ratios of seasoning may change to acquire the acceptable taste you are looking for. Pilot-scale testing allows you to make the necessary corrections before scaling up any further.

Sensory Evaluation and Product Modification

This is done following pilot-scale testing in order to standardize the product. Until then, the pilot-scale process continues with the appropriate modifications until the desired specifications are met.

Consumer Testing

Internal sensory evaluation is a good guide but may be biased. It’s like having a great idea and sharing the idea with your close friends and family who get excited for you, not with an objective eye, but because they like you. Therefore, the target consumers should be given an opportunity to taste the product and provide you with feedback. This can involve inviting a small focus group in (as little as eight people) to taste and discuss the attributes of the product. For example, a focus group could be celiac disease patients, pregnant women, student athletes etc. If the product is for a wider target market, other consumer testing methods can be employed such as sending the products to homes to be tested, and conducting taste testing in public places such supermarkets and on the streets.

Finalization of Product Specification

The feedback from the consumer testing will provide valuable information that can be used to modify the product to ensure that it satisfies their expectations. According to the feedback you may have to go all the way back to the drawing board to develop another prototype or you may just need to make further modifications at the pilot production step.

Market Testing

Now that you are confident that consumers want the product and are happy with it as it is, you are ready to test the waters. This will involve scaling up the process to a commercial scale to produce products for the launch. The launch may be national or you may choose to launch on a phased basis by just focusing on one region or mini-market at a time. Being more cautious is sensible since you may still have some kinks to iron out. You will be able to get feedback on some of these based on sales performance and will be able to correct them as you progress. Be sure to have an excellent advertising campaign during the launch.


  • Courtney Simons

    Dr. Courtney Simons has served as a food science researcher and educator for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and a Ph.D. in Cereal Science from North Dakota State University.