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Food product development – from idea to market (part 2)

Food product development – from idea to market (part 2)
“Wine, Women and food give gladness to the heart”- Ancient Egyptian proverb.

Now isn’t this the truth right here! In fact, I can testify that good food always brings out the “gladness of my heart” and it’s so crucial that we make it right the first time.

Last week, in my opening article, we looked at the importance of packaging design, customer demand as well as product research when developing your food product idea.

This week we take it further as I have elaborated four more “pre requisites” you should be aware of prior to you developing your food product. Let us look at them in detail.

Step 2

It’s all about the money. How will you finance the entire project from farm to fork, and how will you do your product costing of raw materials, machinery and all start up operating costs. Will you be bootstrapping, getting out a loan, or getting an investor willing to take the risk of a new food production line.

Will the ROI be worth it? Remember there will be other costs that will be incurred which are often overlooked i.e. consultant fees for marketing as well as product design and food product development. After the first prototype is done, it needs to be tested in a food lab to establish the shelf life, nutritional content and food safety protocols. All these costs need to be factored in to the initial budget prior to starting. One other crucial point I would like to touch on, is that if you are new in to the business sector, you must always have approximately P3, 500 before you even apply for any funding or grants, as this will be your “float” needed to register a company, hire a company secretary and open a business bank account needed to be a legal entity in Botswana.

Step 3

It is so vital that you produce food products that are safe for human consumption and have been tested to be safe by traceable laboratories. The health and well-being of the consumer is so important and you don’t want to be found standing on the wrong side of the law. Botswana Bureau of standards (BOBS) are the chief custodians of regulations in regards to safe food production in Botswana. They also have a library of product standards for food products from raw material specifications e.g. carrots and onions to finished goods such as peanut butter and milk. A Food Scientist and/or Technologist can assist you align your processes to legislative and statutory requirements ensuring all food formulations are well within the required specification.

Food safety is so crucial for food manufacturers, and if they dare take one wrong move, it shall be check mate! As a food manufacturer you are adding value to raw materials to produce a finished product that is safe for the consumer. Remember your target market can be children, pregnant women, the elderly and the general population. It is paramount that their safety is always a priority at all stages in the production chain. Most of the raw materials used in food processing are from the soil e.g. vegetables, or by – products of animals such as milk, meat and eggs. During processing food safety checkpoints must be established at each processing stage to ensure the products are “safe” at all times.I am sure we can remember early this year where a certain company based in South Africa requested certain countries to send back all their stock of canned pilchards in chilli sauce due to a canning defect. Whilst the cause was never fully established, the bacteria was said to be present in the processing facility. Also, if you can remember, from January 2017 up until March 2018, another certain company in South Africa recalled all Polony and related products as they were contaminated with a certain strain of bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes which causes a diseases known as Listeriosis.

This was such a serious outbreak as there were a total of 1, 060 confirmed cases in South Africa and 216 people died from eating Polony that was contaminated with this bacteria. Please note that most reported food borne outbreaks such as those mentioned here are caused by disease causing bacteria. This is because these microorganisms occur naturally in the environment where foods are grown. Most are killed or inactivated during cooking, and minimised by good hygiene practices throughout the production process. Improper handling or storage i.e. temperature abuse of the foods can contribute to a significant increase of the level of these microorganisms.

Research has proven that from primary production, processing, manufacture and distribution until the point of consumption, you will encounter various food safety hazards i.e. chemical hazards, biological hazards, physical hazards as well as deliberate sabotage and food fraud. This is where an experienced Food scientist or Food safety expert can be able to assist you identify the potential hazards in your production line and put in mechanisms and actions to reduce the chances of these hazards from becoming a threat to your food business.

One of the best ways to have a robust food safety management plan in your manufacturing business is to list all the steps needed to make your food product from farm to fork. Make a flow chart of each process and put as much detail as possible from the beginning of the process to the end. At each stage in the flow chart list all the potential hazards that may be present, for example in the case of making Polony the first stage is the receipt of raw meat in to the factory. One potential hazard is that of faecal matter present on the surface of the meat. Faecal matter contains bacteria and is classified as a biological hazard. Once you have identified your hazards in advance i.e. prior to production during your research stage, you then put in control measures, in advance, and build them in to your processes to eliminate or maintain food hazards to acceptable levels. These control measures help you take charge of your food safety hazards in the production process and produce food products that are safe for the consumer.

Remember it’s all about the grass roots and if you get it wrong in stage one i.e. the pilot stage, the whole project is a re – run of Chinua Achebe’s things fall apart! All hazards are identified, evaluated and classified, through research, traceable data and legislation to establish the acceptable levels. In order to assure food safety my dear food safety innovator, we need to

move in to the level where we are implementing internationally recognised food safety management systems such as HACCP which is the basic foundation, ISO 22000 and the newly published FSSC 22000. The fundamental control measures implemented to control food safety hazards are known as prerequisites and are the building blocks of food safety management, which include personal hygiene, good manufacturing practices and minimum legal requirements for food processing. I always liken a food processing facility to a hospital operation theatre; sterile, temperature controlled and super clean where all tools are up! Nothing lying on the ground.

Step 4

It is paramount to note that all finished food products that are to be sold in the retail outlets must be labelled according to the Botswana labelling regulations. The labels communicate to the consumers where you manufactured the food product, what you have made for them, the ingredients you used and the total weight of the finished product. All labels must communicate food allergens that can be very dangerous if not clearly stated on the label. A food allergen can cause abnormal immune reactions when consumed i.e. swollen eyes, skin rashes and tightness in the chest 2 -3 hours after consumption. The United States Food and Drug Administration FDA has established 8 types of foods and their derivatives that can trigger an allergic reaction, and even small amounts of the 8 allergens can cause serious reactions, even death in some cases.

Let’s say for arguments sake, you are making two types of pancakes in your food factory with two types of toppings i.e. one with chocolate and peanuts and one without peanuts. You may think because I have a line of products that does not use peanuts at all, then it is safe to package and ship the product off as “safe” from peanuts. As a food manufacturer, you must clearly state on the label “produced in a factory made with peanuts”, even if the product does not contain nuts. The non-peanut food product may get in to contact with peanuts through the air, clothing and human contact through cross contamination. Consumers allergic to peanuts can get serious allergic reactions that can be fatal so please be careful dear food innovator.

Step 5

Sourcing of raw materials

Let us go back to our “rooibos lemonade” idea where we have been using freshly squeezed lemon juice as the baseline for the zesty lemon flavour. However, if you want to scale this product to a commercial scale you will need to source out cheaper alternatives that will lower production costs and increase margins. An experienced food scientist can decide to use lemon flavourings that are highly concentrated hence only little amount is needed but still giving the same zesty lemon flavour. This will definitely save you from squeezing a truckload of lemons!

Secondly when scaling up your “rooibos lemonade” you will need to heat up the product as a means of preservation i.e. pasteurisation which could alter the final taste of the product where in most causes the original flavour is lost during processing. Hence it may not be feasible to use “fresh lemons” but lemon flavouring which is usually added at 0.1 – 2% of the total food component. These are crucial considerations to be made before you commercialise your food product. Remember food is a matrix of physical and chemical characteristics that during scale up may interact differently. I like mayonnaise because albeit the recipe makeup is simply oil, vinegar and egg as well as other additives and preservatives, the science involved is so meticulous and needs to be clearly understood prior to manufacture. Remember you are mixing a soluble (vinegar) and insoluble (oil) products together where they must stay intact making a stable emulsion. Homemade mayonnaise just takes a blitz in the blender but scaled up, all the raw materials dance around finding their final space that may not be what you intended to make. Don’t give up during your pilot phase but restrategise look at your raw materials and see what can be done to either to substitute, reformulate or change concentrations of your raw materials.

In conclusion remember food product development is a detailed and orderly process and skipping any of the stages will only lead to multiple dead ends which can quickly drain your pockets financially and moral making you lose focus. Project management is so important to get you to launch a successful product as it keeps you organised. As you are working on timelines, you can foresee potential problems and change course quickly avoiding catastrophes. You must ensure you communicate with your food product development team, suppliers, consultants and consumers at all times until the project close out phase where you are now a successful food manufacturer. The pilot stage is the most crucial part of the whole process and requires you to take your time, don’t rush to the market. Remember as I said in the opening paragraph you are going to “war” with your competitors who don’t sleep and have established extermination strategies to take you out even before you began your production process! Remember, “Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation”. (Zig Ziglar) and you can definitely rise above your competitors and their combative strategies’ by conducting the right research and establishing good timing.

Please do well to read our next article in the coming fortnight, as we go in to the nitty gritty on the four steps to take to produce your innovative food product i.e. planning your pilot phase, recipe formulation, shelf life analysis and successful keys to making a good first food product sample.

We at plethora PC consultants want to partner with you to take your food processing entity to a level where it can compete in the international market by establishing internationally recognized food safety management systems i.e. HACCP, ISO 22000 and FSSC 22000. We are trained Lead Auditors that will help you identify your hazards, evaluate your risks and put in place control measures to manage the hazards identified to acceptable levels.

We are a 100 % Motswana owned Company, qualified Food Science and Technologists, as well as qualified BQA Food safety trainers experienced in everything to do food!  We are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs produce successful food products and processes through individual sessions, trainings and workshops and walk hand in hand with you throughout the food production journey. Drop us an email at


*Susan Sekgweng is a Managing Director  of Plethora Consultants

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