Blog Feb 2024

Formulation Flexibility

What would happen if the major ingredient in your best-selling food product was unavailable, or doubled in cost? We discuss the importance of resilience - and what it looks like in action...

In this short insight summary, we share the learnings from our Food Hub interview with Dr Aidan Craigwood about formulation flexibility. Aidan and Alex are two of our resident experts in the food and beverage sector, and two of our (many) resident foodies. Here they explore formulation flexibility, and why it is so important across global food markets today.

To see the full interview, please visit


What is a “flexible formulation”, and why is it important?

Sometimes product labels state that the product “may contain” a range of different ingredients, for instance “cottonseed, canola or peanut oil”. This approach to labelling allows food manufacturers to make small changes to the formulation, i.e., it is “flexible”, which can be important to profitability and smooth operations. This flexibility is becoming increasingly significant in today’s disrupted markets, where volatile costs and supply limits result in manufacturers needing to make bigger changes than ever before.

Rapidly adjusting formulations can allow manufacturers to ride out changes in supply and demand, but each comes with their own challenges. Even as small an adjustment as moving to a new flour supplier can cause major production headaches; e.g., corn sourced from different parts of the Midwest differs in dough viscosity and thermal properties, with major effects on sheetability and expansion quality. Going from refined to whole corn flour, or even to whole wheat, is even more challenging.

Tackling any large change to formulation therefore requires you to go back to the fundamentals of what you’re trying to achieve in a product. You need to think about how this relates to the underlying transformations that are taking place, how they connect to the under starch or protein chemistry, and which manufacturing processes you are using to achieve it.


How can flexible formulation be useful in moving product lines to new markets?

A good example of this can be found in one of our case studies. PepsiCo wanted to take formulations they created in developed American markets into emerging markets in Asia. To do this successfully, they needed to deliver the same satisfying experiences at a much lower cost, which precluded using the same (now very expensive and imported) ingredients. We helped them understand how their current processes and formulations were delivering consumer-desirable textures, and worked backwards to see how the same effects could be achieved using ingredients more readily available in the target markets. This award-winning work has enabled PepsiCo to bring down their prices, whilst gaining a much deeper understanding of what is actually happening during their manufacturing process.


What strategic value do flexible formulations offer to R&D leaders in the food space?

Flexible formulations can reduce risk in an uncertain environment. It is worth considering them, even if you don’t end up deploying them – in an ideal case if you never will. But as with any other type of business risk analysis, there is value in thinking through how different scenarios could affect your operations. Sometimes this process can highlight new possibilities, such as a new way of making a product (e.g., replacing ingredients through precision fermentation), or ways of achieving a clean label on products. Ultimately this all comes down to risk – we always ask our clients to carefully consider what scale of disruption they can afford.

If you want to know more about flexible formulations, and what that can do for your company, please get in touch or visit