CPG Research & Development 101

Tiffany Lee

Most food and beverage companies start out in someone’s kitchen. Going from there to a product that scales is always a journey. In this post, we’ll outline the main things to consider so that process is a bit smoother. 

What is Research & Development?

Research & Development combines systematic methods with innovation. It creates new products to launch successfully in the market. It’s the difference between making food from your own kitchen to manufacturing larger quantities for commercial sale. It also refines existing products. 

R&D is for anyone who:

  • Has a great idea for a product but isn’t sure how to create it
  • Has a recipe but doesn’t know how to scale it
  • Has a product and wants to make changes or add new flavors/another line

What are the steps?

R&D should be tailored to fit your products. However, let's talk about the generall flow. 

Define what you want.

What do you want it to taste, look, feel like? What about nutrition? Do you want special label requirements? What are your cost parameters in order to make a profit? 

Find the right sources for ingredients.

Does it meet your qualifications (gluten-free, allergen-free, organic)? Does their MOQ and lead time align with your needs? Is this a source that you can grow with? Speaking with different suppliers and building a relationship with ones that you choose to work with will ensure a smoother production. 

Create prototypes.

The fun part! Formulations can be built, ground up, from just an idea, or they can be based on existing recipes. Each round of review should bring actionable steps to make the next version better. 

  • Taste is top priority.
  • Of secondary concern is making the formula cost-effective and streamlined for production, without sacrificing quality.
  • Lastly, you'll need to understand the shelf-life of your product and request the necessary tests to verify it.

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate.

Making incremental changes can continually improve your product. Small adjustments to dial in balance of flavors, texture, and cost can result in big improvements.

Finalize the formula.

R&D often works at the same time as searching for the right co-packer. Your formulation will be the blueprint for how they will make your product. 


Let's talk about some of the most commonly used terms.


Different from a recipe. It’s recorded in weight by percentage, designed for manufacturing equipment and processes, and scaled to anywhere between 100-100,000,000 units. 

Benchtop samples/prototypes

Small scale samples made to test the formulation.

V1, V2, V3, etc

Commonly used to define each round of samples made to reach the final version.

SKU (stock keeping unit)

Used to describe individual products (ex. Three flavors = Three SKUs)

The Most Important Questions To Ask

Whether you’re doing R&D yourself or working with a service provider, it’ll be helpful to keep these in mind.

  • What’s my rollout strategy?
  • What quantity of product do I need for my initial launch? For the first 6 months or a year? 
  • Who will be my customers? What do they care deeply about? 
  • What's missing from the current products in the marketplace that serve them?
  • How can I build a product that's  better than what’s currently available?

Important Documents

Non-Disclosure Agreement

This protects your IP (intellectual property) and the product you’ve been working hard on! It’s standard practice when working with an R&D service provider and when sharing formulas with co-manufacturers (you can ask for their NDA or send them your own). 

Spec Sheet

Describes exactly an ingredient, in detail, so you know exactly what you're getting. If a supplier can't share this with you, that's not a good sign.

Main Takeaway

Many brands think R&D is a one-time effort that happens prelaunch. It’s not.  

It's an ongoing exercise.

The brands that are the most successful have a process for capturing data and feedback from their customers, synthesizing it, and turning that into new products. 

A little more about Rodeo R&D

Rodeo Research and Development brings the rare combination of deep culinary knowledge and decades of manufacturing expertise to help our clients grow through product design excellence. Our team of culinary experts, food science experts, and manufacturing specialists work to fully understand your vision, and then provide the tools to bring that vision to beautiful, profitable, and fully scalable fruition.

Drop us a line today!