As a food founder, I often get asked how I come up with my flavors and the step-by-step process behind developing the recipes. In the spirit of launching gr8nola’s newest edition to our superfood line (in partnership with Girl Up x Nigel Barker), I wanted to share a little #BTS of the process that goes behind ideating, testing and bringing a flavor from concept to shelf.
Step 1: Coming Up With The “Flavor”
Most of my flavors were born from personal experiences with superfoods and/or spontaneous inspiration (I know, I know, not so formal, but that’s how my business “came to be” in the first place -- it was totally random inspo!). Here's the inspiration for each and every one of my six flavors, and the framework that guided our soon-to-be-launched 7th flavor, Peanut Butter:
- The Original: I was making this recipe during a post-Super Bowl cleanse my husband and I do every year when we couldn't find tasty snacks that didn’t have refined sugars and inflammatory vegetable oils. This is my origin story, and the recipe has become the “base” formula for all my other flavors.
- Golden Spice, Matcha Vibes & Cacao Crisp: I launched these three flavors simultaneously in January 2018. When coming up with them, I intentionally wanted to position my brand around having unique, functional superfood flavors that typically weren’t seen in the granola or cereal category. From personal experience, I was an avid matcha drinker, loved turmeric (especially its benefits) from savory South Asian cuisine, and I’m a chocolate fiend (and cacao is its less-processed source).
- Black Coco Chia (aka Charcoal Chia): Launched Oct 2018, this was born from a spontaneous idea: What if I made a BLACK granola using activated charcoal? I felt charcoal aligned well with my existing flavors from the standpoint of it having functional benefits, but more importantly, I wanted to do something fun, different and BOLD (which is one of my core brand values). It launched it as a limited edition flavor but quickly turned into a top seller.
- Cinnamon Chai: Launched Oct 2019, this flavor came from my experience first drinking Mudwtr, until I started making my own chai blend from scratch to save money. I loved the flavor of chai, and it comes with a slew of health benefits. This flavor is more balanced between approachable and familiar (cinnamon), while still being unique and differentiated (chai).
- Peanut Butter: The newest edition to the gr8nola family and launching 1/26 (pre-order here!), this flavor was a collaborative effort with Nigel Barker and five Girl Up Teen Advisors who I mentored #BTS to bring it to market. We wanted something mass appealing, approachable and nostalgic to childhood, and the addition of ashwagandha adds timely relief from stress with everything going on in the world today.
As I grow the business and get into new channels like retail (grocery), I definitely have more specific goals and parameters that guide my flavor development. Seven flavors is already a lot to manage, and I don’t just want to launch a flavor solely because it’s “unique” or because I have a personal experience with it. The flavor must:
- Align with my lifestyle and nutritional values (do / would I personally consume it?)
- Appeal to the mass consumer (eg: does it have the potential to be a top selling flavor online and in retail?
- Is there a functional benefit that addresses the health needs of consumers today?
- Taste DAMN gr8. Minus the functional benefits, minus the nutritional values, it must win on taste, even against unhealthy competitors.
Step 2: Sourcing
Once I come up with the “idea”, I immediately start sourcing and looking into the cost of the various inclusions, superfood spices and ingredients. Things that I gut check for are making sure that the pricing will be relatively in line with my existing flavors. There have been times that I had ideas for flavors, but once I started to source the ingredients -- the price was just too high to make economical sense.
Step 3: Formulation
After I vet that unit economics work, my next step is to come up with my formula and bake! Although I don’t have a formal food/baking or R&D background, all my flavors were born in my kitchen and are my own personally developed recipes. I start with a base formula in a spreadsheet, tinker with the #s, and start with 1-2lb batches. It can take anywhere from 3-5 versions (if I’m lucky) to up to 20 attempts to get the final recipe down. I solicit feedback along the way -- mostly from my husband Tank or immediate family (I try to keep this first feedback loop small, to people whose tastebuds I highly trust).
Step 4: Scaling Up
Once I get enough feedback from VIPs and know my recipe is perfected, the next step is to “scale up” the recipe. I’ll scale my 1-2lb batches to a 5-6lb recipe at home. Then I take that recipe to my copacker to do a 20lb batch. Because I use ingredients like monk fruit, which are used in such minuscule amounts, it’s super important to scale the recipe incrementally to avoid huge, unintentional variances between each step. Also, commercial oven temperature varies drastically from home ovens, which is another variable to manage.
Step 5: Final Production
Once the 20lb batch is honed in at my copacker’s, it’s ready for full scale production (which is still pretty “small batch”, relatively speaking). Even when I feel confident the process is the same and will go smoothly, I'm always physically present during the first full-batch production -- because in the past, I’ve discovered issues that I only encountered during larger batches or full production. For example: Similar to brown sugar, coconut sugar can have hard rock-like “clumps”, which is very easy to “break up” when doing 1-20lbs batches, but when you're producing at scale, you have to find a new process to do this efficiently. Even when you feel like you’ve “thought” of everything and things in theory should go smoothly, there’s always a learning curve and oftentimes you just don’t know what you don’t know until you scale.
It's a lot of fun (and hard work) when it comes to conceptualizing and launching new flavors, but there is a whole lot more I’m skipping over here that take a ton of prep, too -- things like packaging design, nutrition information, shelf-life testing, printing bags, etc. However, nothing beats the satisfaction and excitement when you NAIL your recipe and economics, and then quickly get positive feedback validation from the masses once it’s launched!