You know what kind of beverage you want to create. You can picture it on store shelves and in your customers’ hands, and you’re ready to make it happen. The most common question beverage entrepreneurs have at this stage is, how quickly can I launch? As discussed in an interview with Mark Rosenberger from CMC Beverage Solutions, Dan Macri, EVP of Sales & Marketing at BevSource answers that it all depends on several variables. With all of the planning, coordination, and decisions required to build a successful beverage brand, budgeting eight to twelve months for product development is a smart move. Not every beverage project will need that long, but building a long enough runway to launch reduces the risks and costs that come with rushing through critical stages of the process.
From creating a viable purchasing strategy to finding the right co-packing partner, every step of your product development journey is an opportunity to learn while constructing a sustainable and competitive beverage business. Here are some of the critical milestones to allot adequate time for on your beverage development journey.
Milestone 1: Defining Your Product Vision
As you learn more about the beverage industry and your ideal customer, what was once a vague dream becomes a clear vision. Through market research and your experience with the beverage development process, you will begin to identify the opportunity and the most important aspects of your product and your business.
Celebrate that clarity, document it, and share it with everyone you meet on your journey. The best product vision statements are inspiring and emotional. Your vision should identify long-term goals, like where your product will be sold in three to five years. Your plans may shift over time, but starting with a vision people can grab onto keeps everyone moving in the same direction.
Milestone 2: Creating and Optimizing Your Formula
We often refer to a commercial formula as the blueprint for your brand. A truly remarkable beverage product is designed with the customer at the center while considering the opportunities and constraints of the sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, and retail environments it will be created within.
Your commercial formula determines how viable and successful your beverage business will be. Taking the time to build a formula that accounts for everything from flavor and shelf life to ingredient availability and packaging costs drastically increases the probability that your beverage will succeed.
Milestone 3: Securing A Strong Co-Packer Network
Creating a product that can only be manufactured by one partner puts your brand at risk. Suppose there is an issue with your co-packer. You want to know that you have options. You’ll also want to map out what those alternatives are and what adjustments you might need to adopt in your product or process to make them work. Ensuring you have a strong network of production partners means formulating your product to work with the co-packing environment. You’ll also need to develop and maintain a comprehensive list of potential partners and their capabilities and capacity to make your product.
Milestone 4: Accurately Projecting Your Costs
Knowing how much it will cost to make your product initially and as you scale gives you the knowledge for pricing and growth decisions in the future. Estimating your cost of goods sold (COGS) and mapping out your cash schedule empowers you to plan for your beverage business’s financial success.
Milestone 5: Sourcing and Securing Your Materials
In addition to thinking about your manufacturing partners, you want to consider your materials during formulation. Your approach to finding, vetting, negotiating with, and monitoring your suppliers is a vital function of your beverage business. Carefully mapping out the ingredients and packaging materials you’re considering, and your process for tracking changes with your suppliers, pricing, and new alternatives in the future will help you stay competitive with lower costs and more consistent quality. Whether you go direct or use an ingredient or packaging broker, mapping out your process to excel at sourcing is essential for making and growing a successful beverage.
Milestone 6: Completing A Successful Pilot Run
Successfully testing your project on commercial equipment during a pilot run lets you work through the issues and variables that inevitably arise when a new product goes through the commercial manufacturing process. Finding out that an ingredient isn’t blending well at scale or that a preservation method is creating an off-flavor is an easier and much cheaper fix during a pilot run. The lessons you learn and the adjustments you make to your formula and processes during a pilot run will save you valuable time and money when you move to full-scale production.
Milestone 7: Producing Your Beverage
The day has finally come. Your beverage is on the line at your co-packer and set to go out into the world. With the proper preparation in place, the chances of something going wrong are drastically reduced. It’s still always a good idea to have someone from your team onsite during your production run to ensure your production plan is being followed and address any questions or issues that might arise. There’s nothing more exciting than seeing the beverage you’ve worked so hard to create travel down the manufacturing line.
Milestone 8: Reviewing and Improving Your Process
After you’ve celebrated your first production run, one of the most valuable things you can do is take a step back to review what went well and what you’d like to improve in your process for your next run and your next beverage. With every lesson you learn, you’re creating value for your brand that competitors can’t replicate without your level of experience and understanding.
You’ll notice that most of these milestones aren’t tasks you check off the list. They are ongoing areas of mastery that the most successful beverage brands commit to constantly improving. Falling in love with the process, allocating enough time to succeed, and celebrating your effort and growth along the way make for a better beverage and a more enjoyable journey.