Success Tips for Developing your Product Line: Formulations
For most of us, developing a new skincare product or product line is exciting, scary, exhilarating, and full of ‘blanks’ in your knowledge bank. Few of us know everything about bringing a skincare product to market and working with all the suppliers, vendors and partners you need to be successful.
This blog will share with you some of the most common ‘gaps’ we see when customers come to us to create their product lines. After 20 years, we’ve seen a lot, and believe me, most of them are not obvious or even what common sense would tell you to do. The list we have compiled below was gathered from talking with our account executives, our production teams, our marketers, and our formulators. The hope is that you’ll find at least one ‘ah ha’ idea to help you more smoothly bring a new product or product line to market.
CUSTOMER PROVIDED FORMULAS
Do you have a formula you’ve been making in your kitchen? Or in a small lab? That’s terrific because you already understand what you want and you likely have customers who already love your products. That said … your formula may not be ready for commercially scaling up to larger batches and it may not be stable when stressed. That’s one reason why you would work with a cosmetic formulator who is part of a contract manufacturing team. One of the services that we provide is to work with your formula and take it through commercialization and scale up.
First off, let’s define a formula. When we talk about a formula, we are talking about a fully-functioning recipe. When you bake a chocolate flourless torte, you will have ingredients by measurement and phase, and the finishing time, temperature and so forth. Often you’ll even be told the type of equipment to use. For instance, one methodology may be to use a high-sheer mixer and another may be to use a whisk to incorporate essential oils into a balm warmed over a hot-water bath. For a cosmetic formula, we also need to know the source of the ingredient and the type. Raw Shea Butter is different than Organic Shea Butter and there are multiple strains of Lavender to choose from. Even something like Vitamin C comes in different forms. When all of the components are understood and successfully create a finished product you love, you have a functioning formula. Then the scale-up begins.
When you bring your formula to a contract manufacturer, you may be asked questions as if we doubt you or your work. That’s not the case. Our job is to completely and thoroughly understand the science so we can successfully produce hundreds of pounds in production.
INSIDER TIP: Be flexible. Focus on the outcome you want and the brand requirements — vegan, for instance — and let the formulators manipulate your formula so that it has the best chance for being stable when it scales. Be open to new ingredient ideas or to methodology changes.
REALITY CHECK: When we create a formula — even one a customer provides us — we make multiple variations in our lab. We stress test with heat-thaw-freeze-thaw and with viscosity stress testing. This eliminates many formulas the first time around; we test, reformulate, test, reformulate, and test some more. This means we need time to work your formula so that it has the best chance to be a stable product when we scale to commercial production.
If you have an idea for a product — perhaps even the ingredients you want to use — but don’t have a formula — our R&D team can step in to help you develop a completely custom formulation. This is true, too, if you love a product someone else has on the market and you want to do your own version, improving or changing it to meet your desired outcome. We will first want to know if you have a benchmark. A benchmark is a sample of a product you want your product to emulate. Maybe it’s a product you buy at Credo or maybe it’s something you’ve been trying to formulate yourself. Or perhaps you have no formula at all, but just a clear vision. All of that is okay.
The most valuable information you can bring to the table is a clear vision for the kind of product(s) you want to bring to market. We’ll need to know:
- The type of product and the benefits it brings to your customer
- Who is your customer
- Key hero ingredients you want or don’t want
- Where you want to sell — this affects ingredient choices, regulatory requirements and certification requirements
- Your price point
- Brand and retail packaging concepts
- If you have a benchmark for us to work towards
INSIDER TIP: Dig in. This is the time to brainstorm, explore, experiment and create something unique.
REALITY CHECK: Be prepared for multiple prototypes. Realistically, bringing a totally new formula to market can take a year or more. You’ll want to plan for market testing and challenge testing.
SEMI-CUSTOMIZING AN ESSENTIAL FORMULA
We hear it all the time: “I just want to add a little of [this] to your [product]. Serums, cleansers, lotions, creams, masks — everyone wants to customize our stock products to create a unique formula. That’s great and we love that. However … it’s not always that easy. Adding something as simple as an Essential Oil or swapping a Butter or Carrier Oil seems easy-peasy. But what if the oil you’re swapping is higher in Omega Fatty Acids than the one in the original formula? Bang — you’ve got an absorption problem.
INSIDER TIP: Talk with your team and give yourself time. Focus on outcomes and goals vs. the specific ingredient. While we want to know what you want, knowing the outcome is also critical. You may ask for Apricot Oil but perhaps you’ll get a better outcome with Meadowfoam Seed Oil. Again, flexibility is an asset.
REALITY CHECK: Be prepared for multiple prototypes. Adding actives like Hyaluronic Acid, Niacinamide, or Electric Daisy will change the chemical makeup of the product. So give yourself time to perfect the formula and don’t expect the first round to be spot on. You’re in this for the long haul, not for a quick buck. Let your time investment reflect this.
Using a stock product is just fine! The stock products we offer are tried and true. Many of them are top sellers on Amazon and throughout Sephora, Whole Foods, and Nordstrom because our customers have found a way to market these products in a unique way. This is absolutely the fastest time to market. We know the preservation systems work and that the products will scale. So if you need or want to get into the market quickly, consider one of our stock products. You can always go custom in the future.
INSIDER TIP: Make your mark with your brand promise and your marketing prowess. Focus on packaging, market penetration, and getting feedback for future goals. Consider using a stock product for the basics, and add custom or semi-custom for your hero products. You’ll save time and money using stock products.
REALITY CHECK: Using stock products — like Essential’s Sirius Line — is a great way to get to market quickly. Put your energy into branding, marketing, and at the same time, be creating your hero products to bring to market once you have an established customer base and reputation.
Natural, organic and green-chemistry products are, in reality, commodities. We are purchasing farmed or harvested ingredients, not ingredients made in a lab environment. So the same forces that shape the cost of oranges and avocados at the grocery store shape the price and availability of raw ingredients. A crop failure in Bulgaria will drive the cost of Rose Absolute up just as a cold snap in Florida drives the cost of orange juice (and Orange Essential Oil) up. Some ingredients only come from one location in the world and therefore are harder to source and require longer lead times. So as you work with your formulator, be sure to talk about availability, potential impacts to pricing, and lead times.
You’ll also want to be sure to include enough room in your gross margins to adjust and absorb periodic fluctuations in cost. As a manufacturer, we are at the mercy of the suppliers and if they raise the price of Matcha Green Tea by 45%, then we have to pass some of that on to you and you, in turn, will need to pass that along to your customers.
INSIDER TIP: Selecting a ‘hero’ ingredient – like Hibiscus, Vitamin C, Silk Peptides, Prickly Pear Oil, Green Algae or even something as simple as Babassu Oil will give you a thread that ties all your products and messaging together. Think about ingredients that represent a region or are known for a certain outcome or simply that you love. Experiment and be open to new ideas and ingredients to stay fresh and relevant in the market.
REALITY CHECK: By working up front with your formulator as you select ingredients, you’ll be better prepared for making the best choice and the best business decisions for your company. If your business plan doesn’t allow for every product in your line to include Jasmine or Argireline Peptides, be sure to include them in your hero products and then build your other supporting products with ingredients that support and complement your hero ingredients.
Bring an open mind and a clear vision to your formulation conversations and you’ll be able to leverage both the art and science of creating great skincare.