Important factors in product design and process development

In food product design, there are some important points to consider:

Raw materials and ingredients

In many industries, there is increasing recognition of the place of suppliers in product development. In the past, the manufacturing company studied the effects of different raw materials and ingredients in the development of the product, and then produced specifications for the raw material/ingredient. Today, there is an increasing emphasis on working with suppliers in product development, and this is prevalent in the food industry (Hood et al., 1995). The ingredient supplier is introduced to the initial problem in the product design specifications and then cooperates in developing the solution. This is sometimes called the ' black box approach' and it is claimed to reduce the time for the project (Karlsson et al., 1998). Certainly the ingredient processor can be developing the process for the ingredient at the same time as the manufacturer is developing the consumer product. There needs to be a good relationship between the supplier and the manufacturer for this codevelopment to be successful. The food ingredient suppliers have actually gone further than this and developed the ingredient, the manufacturing process and the consumer product and handed this to the manufacturer. The reason for this may be the greater knowledge of product development in the food ingredient companies.

Quantitative techniques to integrate product and processing In the past 20 years, there has been an increasing use of experimental designs and statistical analysis in food design and process development (Hu, 1999). There is software available that indicates suitable designs for the experimentation and analyses the results. Techniques such as linear programming have been used in animal feeds and petfood formulation for many years but have been slow to be used in human foods. Some of the problems in using quantitative techniques have been the variety of critical product characteristics, the poor definition of some characteristics and non-linear relationships between processing variables and product qualities. Food product design is complex but with increasing knowledge of the reactions in processing and new software, quantitative techniques will be increasingly the norm, but this will need increasing level of knowledge of the product designers and process developers. Hegenbart (1997) noted in product formulation, the use of spreadsheets to calculate formula costs, electronic information sources for ingredient supplier details, and company database of in-house ingredients; and in product testing the use of software for prediction of microbial growth in food and for sensory testing.

Aesthetic skills in product design

In the design of food, there has been extensive use of sensory science in developing a sensory product acceptable to the consumer. The industrial designers have not been greatly involved in the design of the appearance, colour, shape, but there has been interest in recent years (Pearlman, 1998; Capatti, 2000). Extended design is most immediately applicable to haute cuisine, but enters also into such items as extruded shapes and packaging. The package design is often by industrial designers and therefore relates to the artistic environment of the time. Airline meals (Kabat, 1998) and restaurant meals are influenced by aesthetic design and we have seen this with development of art nouveau, post-modern and other influences in meal presentation. Today, many food products are completely artificial, in that they are made from processed ingredients, and their design can be varied according to aesthetic environment. This is the area where aesthetic design can be a strong part of design - the question is how to encourage the industrial designer into food design or for the food designer to adopt some of the practices of industrial designers.

Values of the product characteristics

It is easy to spend a great deal of time designing a product characteristic that is of no importance to the consumer. Technical characteristics are often beloved by engineers in design but are of little consequence to the consumer. They may of course be an integral part of the product and therefore need some concentration in design. Value analysis or value engineering relates the cost of a product characteristic to its importance; and then selects the characteristics with the greatest value. There is a need to recognise the main aim of the product, for example long life, and then to identify the characteristics of the product that relate to this, such as low water activity and controlled atmosphere, and then the cost of achieving them. There will be other characteristics, such as convenience, sweet fruity flavour, which also need to be fulfilled and other characteristics of less critical importance. The cost of these characteristics in the design can be determined to see if the cost is too high for the product characteristic, in other words above the value to the consumer. The highest valued characteristics are then the major part of the design.


A neglected area in some food design, particularly in packaging, is ergonomics, the relationship of the physical product to the person (Ulrich and Eppinger, 1995). An example of poor ergonomics is an aerosol can for depositing a dairy cream on a cake or a dessert, that is mostly used by women and children, but cannot be held and used in one hand by them. Food is opened from a package, used in cooking, served and eaten; so design needs to take into consideration the physical aspects of the product and their relationships to humans using and eating it in all these steps.

Semi-production plant facilities

The stumbling block in technology transfer is the movement of the product from the laboratory to the full-scale plant. This is caused by various factors such as lack of processing knowledge of the food designer, the change in the processing conditions as equipment is scaled up, the difference in process control in the experimental and production plants, the transportation by pumps and lines in the production plant. Some products made and poured from a bucket or a jacketed pan will collapse when pumped around a factory. Many of these problems can be studied in a semi-production plant, without incurring excessive costs in materials and processing. When new products are based on incremental product changes, a semi-production plant can be used for a number of years and so the capital costs are paid back.

Internal and external capabilities

In the past, the aim was to have and build up the necessary expertise inside the company; then in the last ten years there was a popular movement to contract expertise from outside the company. On the one hand there is a need to have the activities of strategic importance inside the company so that the direction of the project is maintained. But on the other hand, there is a need to accept opportunities when they appear and if expertise is not available internally, to go out and buy it. Usually it is agreed that it is best to have an internal product development process championed, directed and understood by people inside the company, and to buy expertise from outside as needed. In other words have the company define the decisions, outcomes and activities in the PD Process, but contract out some of the tasks used in the activities.

Review and control of design process

The design process delivers the optimum product in the predicted time and costs - too idealistic? Yes, the design process is creative and working in the unknown, so it is difficult to be specific about product quality, time and costs. But there is a need to follow the product by regular testing - by the design group in the beginning and by consumers as the prototypes become more refined - to see that it is delivering the product. There also needs to be a time and resource plan which can be reviewed at different times in the design process by peer review to see if the project is effective and efficient (Fox, 1993). Problems will be encountered and there needs to be a recognised method of problem solving available to solve the problem quickly before the project collapses.

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