By Lauren Tamburro
Whether you are noshing on candy from a household name brand or sipping on a craft small-batch beverage, it’s a near certainty that a “flavor house” formulated the flavor profile of what you’re eating or drinking. And with the increased innovation and popularity of hemp and cannabis-infused products, from drinks to edibles, it’s more important than ever for brands to stand out and maximize quality by choosing to work with a professional flavor house that best fits their respective needs and goals. Making this selection wisely is also particularly important for hemp and cannabis infused product makers in order to inspire consumer confidence and erase the stigma that edibles and infused beverages are more plant-tasting fuel, rather than delicious food and drinks.
Here are nine key guidelines for selecting a flavor house for your infused product:
Identify the Type of Development Service
Understand the services you need – or don’t need. If your company is at the beginning of the development process, you may want to partner with a flavor house that also offers full-scale product development for consumer-packaged goods with additional services. These additional services may include creating the nutrition fact panel, submission for certifications, and recommendations on co-packing partners. It can also be beneficial to look for specialized flavor houses that focus specifically on your type of product – like baked goods, confection items or beverages.
Get Familiar with Flavor Varieties
Decide on the distinct flavors you want for your cannabis or hemp infused product. For example, there is a big difference between a true to fruit flavor, like a ripe banana with a few brown spots, compared to a candy banana flavor. Questions you can ask yourself during your search include: does the flavor house offer off the shelf flavors, extracts and essences? Does the flavor house offer custom development services to create a custom liquid or powdered flavor? You will also want to voice any concerns around any off-tasting notes in your product. For example, you can request a bitter blocker to mask an undesired flavor from a functional ingredient. Typically, most flavor houses will not charge a fee for custom development if you meet the minimum order quantity.
In addition, some flavor houses offer training courses (both remote and in-person) to help you learn the industry vocabulary for describing how items taste. If you’re a first-time product developer, seek out this valuable training so you can provide more useful feedback when going through the flavor selection process. You can also check if the company provides “flavor wheels” that can help guide you in identifying what flavor profile you’re looking for.
Know the Flash Point of the Flavors
Flavors have volatiles; these are part of what makes them taste great. The flash point of a volatile material is the lowest temperature at which its vapors ignite if given an ignition source. You will need to know the flash point of the flavors you are receiving from the selected flavor house; this information should then be relayed to your manufacturing partner so they can properly store your flavors. Many flavors are kept in an explosion proof ventilated cabinet, as they have low flash points, while others can be refrigerated.
Work in Tandem with Your Infusion Partner
It is prudent to choose your hemp or cannabis infusion partner prior to or in parallel with the flavor house. Different cannabis ingredients and strains, such as hemp-derived CBD versus THC from the marijuana plant, will have vastly different inherent flavors. To set yourself and the flavor house up for success, you may need to provide them the cannabis ingredient you plan to use in your product. If you do not opt for this route and first develop a formula with the desired flavor profile before deciding on the infusion, modifications may be needed to get your product back to its desired flavor profile. This unfortunately may delay your product’s launch, as it requires additional time and rounds of flavor development.
Plan for Flavor Loss and Shelf Life Issues
Some beverage and food products lose the impact of their flavors over time, as the volatiles are lost. It is important to be aware of this phenomenon before finalizing a flavor formula because it may be necessary to add more flavor to an infused product to account for this loss. Typically, one to two months aging is a good time point to taste an infused product and ensure the flavor level has been maintained.
Each flavor, extract and essence will have a different shelf life, so it is important to know the expiration of each of your selected flavors. Work with your flavor house to determine the shelf life for both the unopened and opened packaging. You must also be able to understand what happens before, during and after shipment of the finished product. Will there be any effects if products are shipped together? For example, mint is notorious for flavor migration through packaging from one product to another.
Meet the Minimum Order Quantity
Know how much flavor you need to order up front to meet the launch plan and expected demand for your product. The size of your order may limit your choice of flavor houses willing to work with you. Some flavor houses require a minimum order quantity that can be relatively high. This is a critical question to ask early on to ensure if they’re a good fit for your business.
Determine Turn Around Times
Before signing on the dotted line, ask your potential flavor house: what is your turnaround time from request to delivery for samples and production? An average TAT for a custom flavor development is typically around four weeks, so be sure to build that into your production schedule. For a full-scale production, you will need to build in a lead time between 2 to 16 weeks depending on the flavor you select and quantity you require.
Once you select a flavor house and formally engage them, make sure you share any certifications you plan to pursue for your infused product. Different types of certifications that may be required and/or desired include Kosher, Organic and non-GMO certified options.
Respect Label Boundaries
Request guidance from your chosen Flavor House regarding what front and back of pack claims can be made on the final product label, plus do your own research as well, especially since product label regulations and restrictions can vary wildly by state. This request goes hand in hand with the request for flavors that can be certified. Examples of common claims made on labels include:
- Extracts only (vanilla extract)
- Type Flavor (vanilla type flavor)
- With other natural flavors aka WONF (vanilla with other natural flavors)
- Artificial flavor (artificial vanilla)
- Natural flavor
- Organic flavor
- Vegan flavor
Selecting a Flavor House can be a strenuous process for an emerging infused product brand but following these steps and guidelines can help to avoid potential issues, challenges and delays with getting your cannabis product to market. The field is competitive, and choosing the partner that can best formulate the desired taste for your beverage or edible will help to set your brand apart from the pack.