No scale-up stress with a good process

scale-up from kitchen equipment to industrial machine

One of the most important – and most fun – things we do at TOP is the scale-up of ideas to industrial products, machines or companies. On the one hand we do this driven by our own innovation agenda, on the other as a service we provide to the food industry. As a member of the acquisition team I encounter an abundance of food start-ups that need to scale-up their production process.

These start-ups typically have 1 to 3 employees, produce in small scale from their home or garage and locally sell some products. In The Netherlands we can be very proud of the large amount of young and trendy companies being founded each and every year. It’s no surprise these food companies pop up everywhere; the threshold to start is lower than ever. Everyone with a nice recipe and an entrepreneurial spirit can start a LTD. for a couple of hundred Euro’s and start a small scale production from home.

Unfortunately only very few of these products actually make it to the shelves of one of the large supermarkets. The biggest hurdle here is the tendency to initially focus almost exclusively on product development, while the design of a realistic production process remains underexposed. At first one can get away with this, until that one big client comes along followed by the need for a serious scale-up. It’s just not that easy to scale-up kitchen recipes made with kitchenware 10 or a 100-times. Where at home a high-shear blender from a local kitchen appliances store suffices, you’ll find yourself in a pickle trying to upgrade this equipment a few sizes. An unexperienced producer may find it difficult to find an affordable alternative, not to mention aspects like ingredient selection, food safety and automation. This way a deceptively simple scale-up quickly turns into an issue that demands specialized knowledge.

Reality is that designing and developing a professional production line, however small, is a costly task. Most people don’t realize how high-tech the food industry really is. I would advise aspiring entrepreneurs in the food industry to think about the technology and the process with which their product should be made at a large scale right from the get-go. This helps to compose a realistic business plan in which sufficient capital is allocated for the necessary high-tech solutions. Obtaining external expertise, like TOP bv, then doesn’t have to be a restrictive obstacle. Working in this way will possibly result in just a little less start-ups, but certainly also in more success stories.

Nick van Lanen
business developer / food process engineer