Consistency is key. Consumers know when a product is different than it was last time they had it. Have you ever had a smoothie that was thinner than it was the last time you bought it? Or, a chicken nugget that wasn’t as crispy as it usually is? The differences may be subtle, but you picked up on it. You knew it was different and it may have led you to buy a different brand or be leery the next time you bought the same brand.
Loyal customers are what makes a brand and as brand owners we want to make sure our raving fans are happy! So, how do you minimize variation and produce the same product every single time?
A detailed Product Specification Sheet!
This ensures your product is consistent each time it’s produced and therefore each time a customer buys it.
Foundational habits are good to create at any stage of a business. So whether you’re just getting started on producing and launching your first product or you’re working on the tenth SKU in your brand line, having a detail product specification sheet for production is a must!
A product specification is a guide that explains how to produce your product to any ol’ Joe. I always say you should be able to hand a spec off to your best friends’ cousin who works in tech and they should understand from that document how to produce your product. So, how do you make a clearly understandable product specification?
The 12 components your product specification should include:
- Product Brand and Product Name
- Revision Date
- Product Description
- Product Attributes
- Ingredient Statement
- Nutrition Panel
- Processing Steps
- Packaging Information
- Rejection Criteria
- Cooking Instructions
- Revision History
The 12 components your product specification should include:
1. Product Brand and Product Name
Now, you obviously know your brand name. When you go to a co-packer who has 50 SKUs they run on the same line? They need a bit of guidance to know whose product they’re producing. Also make sure to list directly below the brand name, the product name. This way if you have multiple SKUs there is some differential. The product name is as straight forward as it sounds – if your product is a salsa verde then the product name is “Salsa Verde”.
2. Revision Date
Now, this comes in handy just in case you ever make changes to your product. If you touch anything on the spec: change the name, tweak the formula 0.01%, or choose a different jar style, then you change the revision date. It’s simply the most up to date version of your spec and this signals to production that they have the most current version.
3. Product Description
The description is a visual description of your product. In the case of our salsa verde product we may say it is a “light green salsa with seeds visible throughout the product”
4. Product Attributes
Product attributes go along with the description and take it a step further. If your product is a liquid, we may use descriptive terms to say “a thin salsa” or for a hummus you might say “a smooth, viscous paste”.
5. Ingredient Statement
Pretty straight forward. List your ingredient statement here as it should read on your product label.
6. Nutrition Panel
Insert a copy of your nutritional panel as it should read on your product label here.
At this point you should be working with a product formulation rather than a recipe. If you need help understanding the difference and how to formulate your product this is a great resource. The formula should be included in the specification as a 100% formula. If you have any batters, coatings, or inclusions that have their own formula they should be included as their own 100% formula.
For example: Your product is a refrigerated soup and it is key to puree the onion and herbs together before being added to the soup stock. You would create a 100% formula for the onion puree:
Then, show your total formula with the onion puree added:
8. Processing Steps
In processing steps, you are outlining exactly how to produce your product including cooking equipment, cooking temperatures, time of processing, etc. This section is specific to the manufacturer who is producing your product so you should get specific to the exact equipment they are using. If you ever add a second processor you should write a spec with processing steps specific to their equipment and process.
It would look something like this:
9. Packaging Information
Packaging information will include details of all the packaging materials you use. Any supplier SKUs for the container, lids, films, etc. will go here in this section and be listed out. The box SKUs and number of boxes that are placed on a pallet (TiHi) are defined here. If pallets are stretch wrapped then the film SKU should be included as well.
10. Rejection Criteria
Rejection criteria defines traits specific to your product. This may include viscosity measurement, pH requirement, as well as, any ranges for pickup percentages. Any quality attributes that are measurable should be defined in rejection criteria. These are the measurements that your final product MUST hit in order to be packaged and sent out to consumers.
11. Cooking Instructions
If your product requires the consumer to heat or cook your product then you’ll want to document their cooking instructions here. This ensures that any instructions on the label are written correctly according to the spec.
12. Revision History
Remember that Revision Date up in number 3? Well, this is where you document the changes that we make when you tweaked the spec. Simply record the date and the change made. This is an ongoing history so if you made a revision on May 31st, July 1st and September 9th, they each get recorded and live here permanently. The latest date in revision history should always match the revision date up above.
The goal with a product specification is to compile everything about your product into one document. A document that helps co-packers produce a consistent product each and every time.
It’s really important to review your product specification with your co-packer far in advance of the production day to make sure that they fully understand it and that it fits their facility and equipment correctly. That way on the day of production, everything will go as smoothly as possible.
Ashley Sutterfield is the Founder and Director at Sage. She was previously the ounder of Metzger & Roth, a consulting firm that helps family-owned and solopreneur packaged food companies find the right co-packer to commercialize their product, so they have more time to grow their business. She’s co-owder of her favorite canned cold brew coffee (Airship Coffee), and has launched Sage, an educational resource for brands in the co-man journey. In her 15 years as a Food Scientist Ashley has helped companies scale over 100 million pounds of food products. She guides companies in navigating the food industry and finding a trusted co-packer whose values and capabilities align with their own. To connect with Ashley sign up to receive her weekly newsletter, or sign up for her 6 week course Co-Packing & Beyond.