How to develop a new vegan product – the inspiration, process and pitfalls

Read Time:   |  17th February 2021

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What steps do you need to take when you have an idea and want to develop a new vegan product or brand? Richard Horwell from Brand Relations reveals all


When it comes to creativity, the UK is amazing. You can see this in the innovative vegan products that have emerged in the Food & Drink sector over the last couple of years.

Many individuals, as well as established companies, have been involved in this exciting new area. So, if you have a good idea for a new vegan product, you may be thinking of getting involved and starting your own business.

While it is excellent to have an idea that you believe in, you need to consider the fact that launching a product into the Food & Drink sector is far from simple, even with the increasing interest in vegan products.

Let’s go through the six steps you’ll need to consider on how to develop a new vegan product:

How to develop a vegan product step one: Research widely

We have so many clients that come to us with very little idea of the competition in the category they are planning to enter. The more established a category is, such as Kombucha for example, the harder and more expensive it will be to make any inroads.

Don’t just look at the UK, research the rest of the world.

You can learn a lot from the mistakes other vegan brands may have made, and get some great ideas from the flavours they used.

You can understand the messaging they have chosen to use with their audience, how well they are selling in their market, and their retail price.

How to develop a vegan product step two: Find your POD (Point of Difference)

Think hard about your offering and why it will stand out.

It is true that some small brands have become big brands and even taken on giants such as Coca Cola, so much so that the big players have spent millions to acquire them.

But to stand out from the crowd you must have a POD so that your target audience will cross the road to buy your particular vegan food or drink item.

A point of difference is not just about being vegan, having an exciting flavour or eye-catching packaging. It is being unique. Blending ingredients that others have not thought of before, and, making sure it tastes great.



How to develop a vegan product step three: Get the money you’ll need

This isn’t a cheap industry to get into.

One issue is the minimum runs for production.

You can develop a production recipe (as opposed to one made in the kitchen), get a brand name and branding, and then try raising the money after that in order to pay for a production run.

However, it’s virtually impossible to raise money just on a basic idea.

If you have no seed funding to get started, then you may have to rely on family and friends to invest or donate, but this can be high risk and can potentially hurt relationships.

Think very seriously about where the money will come from.

It can be up to two years before you make any. So, make sure you can survive and have enough money available to pay for adverts in wholesalers’ catalogues, sending out samples and possibly attending exhibitions.

It’s essential to have a clear financial budget for your business, whether you are self-funding or going to investors.

The taste, the name, the branding, the distribution, the samples and the presentation pack for buyers all need to be spot-on from day one. That requires money.

How to develop a vegan product step four: Recipe development

Succeeding in making your product at home doesn’t mean that it can be exactly replicated in mass-production.

We work with several recipe development experts to help us source the ingredients at a competitive price and ensure they work together – resulting in a product that tastes like the one you created in your kitchen but will suit your co-packer.

Some ingredients just don’t blend, this is a very specialised area and the recipe needs to be perfect. So, you will definitely need expert help.

Any contract manufacturer will expect an exact recipe.

And, for the packaging, you will need to know all the nutritional information for labeling.

One area that many entrepreneurs overlook is ‘Novel Foods’. The regulation on Novel Foods applies within the UK and the EU. If your ingredient falls under ‘Novel Foods’ you will probably need to pay for research to prove it is safe for human consumption – something made CBD food producers are just starting to find out!

Not all ingredients are allowed to be used in drinks and this is protected by Novel Foods, so you need to be sure that all your ingredients are in fact allowed to be used. This will save you time in the future rectifying any obstacles you could have tackled in the initial stages.


How to develop a vegan product step five: Packaging alternatives

This can make a huge difference to your cost outlay. You may have some types of packaging that you prefer not to use but let me run through the options for, say, a new drink:

Glass is the cheapest option as you can do the smallest production run. But, wholesalers dislike it due to the weight, and retailers because it may break. This makes it the hardest to sell.

Second cheapest is Hot Fill PET (plastic), which is small volume as the PET bottles can be filled with high temperatures. The negatives are that the bottles are ugly with solid ridges down them and with the backlash of PET polluting the oceans – these bottles have a lot of PET in them – consumers are turning away from this type of packaging.

Next is Aseptic Fill where the PET bottles are blown on-the-line, then filled in aseptic conditions to keep all the bugs out. After this the contents are pasteurised in the bottle, locking in all the nutrients. However, the minimum runs are massive as the factory needs to completely clean the entire line in between flavours.

Fourth is cans. These are very popular now, but minimum runs are high. For example, minimum runs for printed cans are 150,000 and minimum filling runs are 75,000. There are options to fill blank cans from as low as 12,000 volume and then sleeve them afterwards. It is a more expensive option but a far better way to test the market.

Fifth is Tetra Pak, but the printed runs of the cardboard are around 100,000 and need to be used up within a year. It’s a difficult option until you have the volume to justify it.

Last but not least is HPP (High-Pressure Processing), this is great for juices as the temperature is only 4C so it preserves all the goodness, antioxidants and flavour. The runs are small, but the cost is 10-15p per bottle just to put them in the machine as they use pressure instead of heat to pasteurise. The distribution must, of course, be chilled.

Understanding the best type of packaging for your drink and your target market is important – it’s a large part of your initial outlay so you want to get it right.

How to develop a vegan product step six: Your co-packer (Contract Manufacturer)

These are the people that, for example, fill your drink in bulk.

They are a very important part of the process.

You need to be careful who you choose to work with, especially as you want to know they understand the requirement for a vegan product.

Although there is a lot of choice in both the UK and EU, there are several companies that care more about making money than they do about making the perfect product.

Then, there are the big players that just don’t care about start-ups.

Do your research and make sure that the company you select has a good reputation – maybe speak to other brands (particularly vegan ones) they’ve worked with?

Also make sure they have the right certification as once you start to get listings, that question will be asked by retailers and wholesalers.

It is an exciting time for vegan brands in the Food & Drink industry. But before you get too carried away, take your idea and work though these steps carefully.

We hope to see you in the stores!

Have you developed your new vegan product? Now find out how to market it to a vegan and non-vegan audience

Richard Horwell is the owner of Brand Relations, a specialist food and drink marketing and branding company based in London. Over the last 10 years, Brand Relations has been behind the launch and development of over 80 brands in the UK. Richard has also built up and sold companies of his own in the Food and Beverage sector. He has over 30 years’ experience in marketing FMCG brands around the world, having lived and worked in the US, Australia and the Middle East.

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