To begin developing your product, you will need to build a test version or prototype of your product including appropriate packaging.

In this section you will learn:

  • how to prepare for prototype testing
  • about prototype testing
  • the requirements that go into product specification documents
  • how to protect your idea

Preparing for prototype testing

Product description

Your first step is to write a clear description of your product. This should include:

  • a general description of the product
  • sensory properties (for example, taste and smell)
  • ingredients (including food allergens)
  • texture
  • shelf life
  • packaging

Your product may need to meet specific regulations (see Food safety regulations and other government regulations) and may require you to make changes to be compliant.

What is it going to cost you to make this product? You will find out the exact cost per unit when you do your test production, but you should understand your theoretical ingredient, packaging and manufacturing costs to see if this idea is economically feasible (see Manufacturing your product to learn about product costing models).

Goal of prototype testing

Your goal here is to develop a recipe and a process that results in all the properties you described for your product. You will do this by making the product on a small scale, then testing it with a view to develop into full-scale production.

Things to watch for in this step:

  • A simple homemade recipe may not work in a commercial-sized batch. Some ingredients may not behave the same way or will be too expensive. Be prepared to change.
  • What manufacturing method works best? Try different processes to see how they change the product.
  • What type of packaging works best? Test several samples to ensure they seal correctly and stand up to handling (see Food packaging and labelling).
  • How does your product work in typical-use situations? How will it hold up in shipping and storage? What happens to it when it is frozen, chilled and cooked?
  • What is the cost-per-unit of your product, and how much will you need to charge for it so you can make a profit? Go back to your business plan; does your research reveal how much consumers are willing to spend on a product like yours? (See Pricing your product for information on tracking costs per unit.)

Potential research and development tax credits

Keep track of all the costs and expenses you pay to develop and test your product. Many of these may be eligible for tax credits or tax refunds, such as the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentive program (see Supporting Research and Development in Canada).

Doing your prototype testing

There are two main ways to do your prototype development:

  • Do it all yourself by developing your own commercial recipe and renting or buying your own development facility
  • Hire a product development facility to do this work for you

You may be able to develop your own prototype by experimenting with your home recipe in your own facility. Prototype development is usually done on a very small-scale and it may require multiple kitchen batches and formulations before you get it right.

If you hire outside help, be very specific about what you want them to do so you pay only for what you need. Product development fees can exceed $20,000. Check your business and financial plans; how much money did you allocate for product development? See Financing your food and beverage business for information on financing options and funding to help develop your product.

At the end of the prototype development and testing, you should have detailed product specification documents so that you are ready for scaled up production.

Hiring a product development facility

Product development facilities include laboratories, research stations and pilot plants. These experts will take your home recipe, develop it into a commercial formula and suggest which manufacturing method works best. Labs and testing services can analyze your product to check its nutrition content, conduct sensory testing to measure user acceptance and liking, evaluate different packaging and its effect on shelf life and more. Search the internet to find a product development lab, talk to your network contacts or see Appendix A for a list of potential labs.

Once you have decided to work with a product development facility, write up a contract with them that includes:

  • detailed project description and work outline
  • reporting procedures and time schedules
  • cost estimate and key milestones/payment schedule
  • materials, supplies and services
  • special terms and conditions
  • work location
  • Confidentiality (see Protecting your idea later in this section)

Understanding your competition

Evaluate and benchmark your product against your competitors’ products. Get to know their key ingredients, ingredient quantities, how their packaging works (including its costs) and more. You may not want to duplicate their product, but you may be able to learn some valuable lessons from them.

Product specification documents

During development and testing, you will have made changes to your recipe, process and packaging. You should also have addressed all regulatory concerns and gained any approvals required (see Food safety regulations and other government regulations).

All these details will now be put together into product specification documents complete with the associated food safety certification plan. The product specification documents should include:

  • formulation document
  • procedure (or blending) document
  • product specification document

The formulation document should be written with weights or measures and include:

  • a list of ingredients and quantities together with unique codes for identification/traceability purposes of each ingredient as well as how ingredients should be grouped together to follow the logical blending or filling sequence
  • a standard blending unit (for example, 100 kg) that can be easily scaled up to fit the blending equipment

The procedure document should outline how to make the product including:

  • the exact blending/manufacturing sequence including any requirements (for example, blanch to a pick-up of 1.8 × the dry weight)
  • hygiene requirements of equipment prior to manufacture and packing
  • preprocess handling including heat treatments and the maximum down-time delays the product can safely withstand in case of line breakdowns or build ups
  • special manufacturing line prerequisites, such as the level of disinfection and pressure required in the water used in container washing, metal detection, sieving requirements
  • for sauces and brines, in-process protocols for visual inspection of raw material defect levels, and container checks for seaming/sealing and manufacturing coding and, where applicable, labelling, and tray and shrink-wrapping quality checks
  • all container coding such as best before coding and stock control identification requirements
  • processing parameters, quality of steam and its treatments, time/temperature treatments
  • cooling water pressure/disinfection requirements. If the water is not from a municipal supply, it should be checked for chemical and microbiological purity.
  • labelling, tray and shrink-wrapping marketing identification protocols
  • pallet selection and storage protocols
  • transportation handling requirements, especially key packaging components

The specification document should outline pre- and post-process requirements for your product including:

  • any health benefit claims your product makes along with validation by a recognized validation agency/auditor. These tests should be independently carried out and a record of them kept in the product specification documentation.
  • quality checks including physical, chemical, microbiological, volumetric and organoleptic testing, and how often they should be done during the manufacturing process as well as the post (final) product process

Feasibility testing

The next step is to scale up your formulation to test out your product in a commercial plant using your formula, procedure and specification documents. The purpose of this step is to ensure that you have a standardized process to make a consistent product. This requires running just enough product to test how the ingredients react, blend and/or fill using commercial equipment and under production requirements. This step can be expensive but is a necessary step before moving to full scale production. Lessons learned in feasibility testing can save you from expensive mistakes in full production.

A key step at the end of feasibility testing is to evaluate your product’s shelf life and food safety. It may be important to use the expertise of a food testing laboratory to ensure this is done properly.

Protecting your idea

You put a lot of time, effort and money into your product by this point, so you do not want someone else to steal your idea.

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office provides information on getting trademarks, patents and copyright protections. Note that patents can be very expensive and may not be worth the money, especially when a competitor can so easily change a process and claim to have a different product as a result.

You should also make all product development service providers (like your lab) sign a confidentiality agreement. This is a legally binding contract, where one or both of the parties agree that information exchanged between them will not be shared with outsiders.

A business lawyer can help draft a confidentiality agreement for you or review a template that a service provider may offer. Check the website for the Law Society of Ontario to find a business lawyer.


  • I have written my product description.
  • I have determined sources for my equipment and raw materials.
  • I have decided if I need any assistance from a product development facility.
  • I have established a set of criteria for choosing the product development facility and ensure it is appropriate for my product.
  • (After testing) I have written my product specification document.
  • I have an agreement of confidentiality for people to sign if I am sharing my idea with them.
  • I have identified which parts of my process (if any) should have a patent.