While chocolate is considered a delicious dessert any time of year, it becomes quite the popular item from Christmas to Valentine’s Day. And what an opportunity for retailers who line the store shelves with an abundance of varieties of this sweet treat, wrapped in packaging that reflects the specific holiday. I’m always a bit in awe at the ability of food and beverage manufacturers to whip up a new recipe and packaging design for every season. How do they do that?
I asked Sunil Thomas, COO of Selerant, a maker of process product lifecycle management (PLM), how these seasonal products get conceived, produced and delivered in time—especially when there may be special ingredients added to the mix. The planning, Thomas said, requires a bit of reverse engineering. “They give us the on-shelf date and our system works backwards to calculate when they need to start the project.” Exact timing is important, otherwise, they could lose the window of opportunity around the holiday business.
This is just one way a process PLM system can help food, beverage and CPG manufacturers, but seasonal sales are not the only reason batch-based companies are increasingly interested in lifecycle management. Overall, there is pressure to bring new products to market faster. There are also ever-changing regulations that differ in each country and complicated ingredient properties. There’s a need to collaborate and coordinate change management between scientists, chemists, engineers, packaging and label management. And, there’s the need for integration with enterprise systems and the supply chain. While most organizations may have isolated systems, Selerant’s DevEX software connects the processes to optimize time-to-market.
DevEX is a formula-based PLM system which serves as the “design tool” for recipes, starting in the lab as an idea. Similar to what happens with a CAD tool in PLM for discrete industries, or with drug design in the pharmaceutical industry, the DevEX formulation tool supports the creative process as an idea turns into a formula that may have a hierarchy of ingredients in the lab that translate to production.
The tool supports the creativity of scientists while attaching regulatory information to it, which is extremely important, Thomas said. “Each ingredient has properties. If you look at propylene glycol, which is used in alcoholic beverages as well as antifreeze, each country has a limit on the usage. So, when using this ingredient, you want to know if it is allowed by a certain country,” he said.
If there are restrictions around an ingredient, it is immediately flagged by DevEX, which discloses if the recipe passes or fails regulatory mandates while being developed, revealing that it may be okay for the U.S. and Canada, but not for Europe, for example.
In addition, Selerant offers a service that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to gather regulatory information off of the Internet and then a team of experts validates the rules to feed into the compliance framework within the DevEX system.
The business value for manufacturers using DevEX is the ability to condense the time it takes from ideation to product launch. A CPG could take over a year to launch a new product. But a formula-based PLM system can squeeze that down to six months. And, a holiday promotional product that typically took six to eight months to devise can be done in two months, Thomas said.
Some of Selerant’s customers include Nestle, Hillshire Brands, McCormick, Wrigley, Welch’s and Bacardi. And, now, B&B Foods, Inc., a maker of more than 50 well-known food brands, including Cream of Wheat, Green Giant, Mrs. Dash, Ortega and Pirate’s Booty, has selected DevEX software to manage the R&D and product development of all of its global brands.
“B&G Foods is streamlining systems and processes that best position us to bring new products to market, said Rick Drummond, B&G Foods Vice President of R&D. “Selerant has a complete range of capabilities for product development that we are excited to leverage as we move forward with any future product roadmaps.”