Consumers’ thirst for new tastes in soft drinks means producers face a constant race to develop new products. Speeding up the development process can give processors a significant competitive advantage. We explain one way to achieve this goal and stay ahead of the competition.
Innovation is never far away in the soft drinks world. As tastes evolve and novel flavours and ingredients emerge, agile producers experiment frequently with new recipes to keep their product development moving and consumers happy.
But testing and trialling new varieties can be time-consuming. Dedicated lab facilities often have waiting lists for product tests, which can delay the development process. Also, rolling out a new formulation on a commercial scale can present unforeseen challenges. This is because recipes developed in small batches in lab conditions using a simple mixer and agitator often behave differently when produced at volume.
Mineral balance and the resulting pH can behave differently in trial conditions compared to commercial production. Equally, tea powders and caffeine may perform smoothly in lab conditions but cause foaming during full-scale production. Similarly, stabilisers may perform differently in production conditions, where temperature control monitoring is often more rigorous than in lab or trial environments.
“When you introduce a lab-tested product into your production plant there are many unknowns in terms of pipe length, pressure drops and pump and shear forces. It’s one thing to mix five kilos of ingredients in a beaker and quite another to mix a big bag of 1,000 kilos or more in a factory mixer,” explains Mark Rumbell, Tetra Pak Sales Director.
Recipe adaptations are invariably required to produce a lab-developed product effectively in a full plant setting. Each iteration takes time and ultimately delays the development cycle. “You can invest in external small-scale production trials, but even then the product may not run exactly as expected on your machines and fine-tuning it can take a lot of time and effort,” Rumbell says.
Such fine-tuning inevitably requires plant downtime, sometimes of significant duration. One way to reduce delays is to use a beverage preparation system with flexible volume handling ability – one that can run not only full-scale mixing but also small product trials.
“A preparation system that’s flexible in volume and handling multiple ingredients and packaging formats allows you to accelerate your product development and get your new products to market faster,” Rumbell explains. “The ability to conduct trials on a full system is a major advantage when it comes to evaluating mixing times, pressures, tank levels and similar parameters. It speeds up the entire innovation process.”
The system should also be flexible in its ability to handle a wide variety of different products. It can be time-consuming or expensive to develop new products on equipment that is tailored to one specific product because you will need a separate line to run small batches or to stop your existing line.
One way is to use an integrated radial jet mixer that supports very small volumes with high filling flexibility, making it easy to extend a trial recipe to full-scale production.
“Using a radial jet mixer lets you run very big volumes or very small ones on the same equipment without requiring different tank sizes and agitators as in the case in conventional solutions. Small batches can be as low as 1,500 litres,” Rumbell says.*
The ability to run very small batches offers a couple of added benefits. It gives an opportunity to check product quality prior to making a large batch for serious commercial production. It also reduces product waste. A standard size 25,000-litre tank equipped with a common mechanical agitator would ordinarily require a filling volume of 20-30 percent to agitate correctly without splashing. This higher volume results in a larger amount of expensive ingredients going to waste at the end of the trial.
A radial jet mixer allows you to recirculate product over the mixing tank that drives the radial jet mixer nozzle, a design which supports very high mixing efficiency even when the tank level is low. This format radically reduces product waste compared to a standard solution.
Our studies show that using a minimum filling volume of 1,500 litres compared to a conventional agitator solution requiring a minimum volume of 5,000 litres reduces product waste by 70 percent. For a trial product containing, say, two flavours, two food grade colours and relevant stabilisers, this equates to a saving of about €1,700 for a single trial.
“A preparation system that allows you to perform product trials saves waste, energy and money,” says Rumbell. “All in all, it’s a great way to get from lab to shop faster when innovating in your product portfolio.”
* Some recipes may require a larger batch size.