In the summer of 2021, I consulted for a domestic craft brewery trying to launch a new line of hard seltzers. Their initial product offering of 3 flavors took almost 2 years to develop.
That’s approximately 4x longer than it should have taken. 😳
Then their launch fell flat. It failed to generate the sales and attention they wanted. Plus their disappointed distributor now demanded three additional flavors by the following spring—just 6 months away.
Concerned they’d miss this window of opportunity to grow sales in the spring, the brewery’s president contacted me for help.
After meeting with the team, I recognized that despite their professionalism, this team of beer artists didn’t understand the relevant formulation process required to develop a hard seltzer product.
For example, alcohol on its own has substantial bitterness (as do cannabinoids) which is usually balanced by other flavors. So their hard seltzer came out bitter and they weren’t sure how to fix it.
- Bitterness suppression – a new concept to these balancers of hops and malts. They’re used to an art form measured in bitterness units and building big flavors.
- Optimized and stable – Elements like sweet and sour balance need to match the flavor profile—and the drink can’t change or continue fermenting inside the can
- Batch consistency – They struggled to find a fermentation process that would deliver clean-flavored, consistent results.
- Sensory evaluation – When targeting an entirely new customer base, it’s important to get feedback from relevant sources.
The team was failing. But it wasn’t really their fault. They’d been asked to do a job outside the scope of their training and skillsets. They weren’t food scientists and had no formulation experience outside the artistic realm of craft beer.
And they were finding out the hard way that beer geeks and hard seltzer lovers don’t always overlap in their preferences.
But they were smart, hard working people. They just needed education and clear direction. So I delivered a comprehensive step-by-step plan to help them create 3 new flavors within 6 months.
- Brainstorm flavors and concepts
- Consider constraints like ABV, calorie count, etc
- Optimize their fermentation process to solve instability and inconsistency
- Balance sweet, sour, and bitter with overall flavor profile, according to market expectations
- Bottle and test random batches
I also counseled them to run consumer sensory studies—which deliver an incredibly valuable set of human information, but isn’t always feasible due to constraints of budget and imagination.
All this to say: when stepping into unfamiliar territory in food development, it helps to have a food scientist on hand early in the process to help you figure out what you don’t know before you send an unsatisfactory product to market and disappoint your customers and vendors.
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