Dennis Vosen explains the right ingredients needed for a rewarding contract manufacturing partnership
Picture this: your company's sales of nutraceuticals and sports beverages have been growing, but production capacity is full. The top brass want a ready-to-drink (RTD) line extension to capture part of the growing market. You aren't sure if adding more equipment will bring in adequate returns, so you look to a contract manufacturer for help.
But questions remain. Are both companies' business cultures aligned? What kind of turnaround time can be expected? How many bottles per minute can be filled, and at what size? Is the contract manufacturer certified by the necessary agencies? Most importantly, can it produce the kinds of products you need?
The following is a look at the processes and procedures a contract manufacturer should have in place to meet your expectations and to form a successful partnership.
Outlining project requirements
A contract-manufacturing (CM) partner should first be made aware of the proposed product's serving size and the amounts of the various nutraceuticals that are to be included. Make sure the CM offers packaging that fits these requirements as well. The formulator must also understand the desired physical attributes of the product. Is the product clear so as to be transparent or can some opacity or translucency be tolerated?
If your new beverage requires a high amount of protein, the CM should have the relevant expertise in that field. What is the desired viscosity of the finished product; is it to be thin like water or a carbonated soft drink or is the goal to have some mouthfeel and consistency such as in a smoothie? Additionally, the formulator needs to understand the distribution chain of the product: is it to be shelf-stable or is refrigerated distribution an option?
Finally, one must understand the desired processing and packaging parameters: is the product to be cold or hot filled? Does the product need to be processed by HTST, UHT or retort? Is it preserved or non-preserved? Are there to be light-sensitive vitamins in the formulation?
When a formulator has the answers to some of these questions, he or she can move forward and begin to make some choices about the ingredients and processes to employ.
If you're creating a new RTD beverage to specification, take stock of all ingredients and processes that may be necessary for formulation. For example, water quality is obviously very important. Filtration methods such as reverse osmosis can be vital to the quality of an RTD beverage.
Also, you'll probably need to consider how best to incorporate dry ingredients in your RTD. Mixing miscible liquids is easily done, but blending dry ingredients like pectin can be problematic and may result in particles of undissolved material. High shear mixing with a liquefier or shear pump can help avoid these issues. Furthermore, some pectins, in order to be fully hydrated, need to be mixed with water at elevated temperatures, therefore a heat exchanger needs to be associated with the mixing process.
Some products require homogenization to develop their full body and mouthfeel, and to help emulsify any lipids that may be present. In the event of temporary equipment failure on the packaging side of the operation, which could result in already-mixed product having to be disposed of because of microbiological deterioration, it is desirable that the work-in-progress tanks be equipped with cooling devices to increase shelf life. Also, the pasteurization process is critical to the shelf life of the finished product.
If the material contains pulp from fruit purees or concentrate, it is preferred that the heat exchanger(s) of the pasteurizer be of tubular design and not plate and frame. Products containing fruit ingredients have an increased risk of thermoduric mold, in which case it is desirable to pasteurize the material at temperatures up to 220°F. The heat exchanger for this process needs to be properly designed to achieve this temperature without fouling.
Role of technical support
If you have an idea for a new product and don't have the means to formulate it yourself, your CM should have a technical support staff on hand to assist you with this, including a research-and-development lab to work on the bench and begin preliminary shelf-life studies. Once this work is complete, it is best if the CM has a pilot plant to begin to scale the process up and conduct meaningful shelf-life determinations.
In order to accomplish this, it is also important to have the ability to conduct chemical, microbiological and organoleptic analysis to periodically monitor the product as it ages. As this would imply, the quality arm of the organization must be staffed with trained professionals who can advise you not only on food safety, but how to creatively solve any problems that may arise.
The organization should also be continually committed to ongoing improvement, which can be signified by third-party certifications like ISO 9001 or Six Sigma. Additionally, the CM should be committed to enterprise asset management, the result of which can improve equipment reliability, lower operating costs and improve efficiencies. The CM can then pass those savings on to you and your customers.
Finally, the CM should have a documented preventive maintenance programme and be engaged in activities like root-cause analysis. This system is designed to correct the reasons for any problems rather than just treating the symptoms.
Contract manufacturing partners that meet all of the above standards can be a tremendous asset to any company looking to expand production and speed time to market without adding expensive equipment or training new staff. Contract manufacturers provide companies with additional production capabilities, research and development, controlled labour and equipment costs, and decreased time to market.
A contract manufacturing partnership can be especially valuable for creating RTD beverage formulations in the nutraceuticals and sports industries, provided the CM has the requisite processes and quality control efforts in place.
Dennis Vosen is technical director for Century Foods International, a manufacturer and marketer of dairy proteins and nutritional products under private label and contract manufacturing agreements.
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