Your Beverage Quality Questions Answered
It can be intimidating to dive into the complex, technical world of nutrition labels and testing. Hannah Krieg, Lab Manager at The Lab-Powered by BevSource, simplifies the topic, sharing what beverage entrepreneurs need to know about nutritional testing and its role in creating successful beverages.
What is nutritional analysis, and why do beverage brands need it?
Nutritional analysis helps you gather the information you need to create the nutrition label for your product. Nutritional labels are required by a majority of countries and are FDA-mandated in the U.S. for non-alcoholic beverages and hard seltzers. Transparent and accurate nutritional information makes it easier for consumers to make informed food and beverage choices. Below is the FDA's new 2020 nutrition label.
There are two methods for determining the nutritional composition of your beverage. The first is using a database to find the nutritional values of your ingredients. You then use your recipe or formulation and information about processing losses or gains to calculate your finished beverage’s overall nutrient value. This process can be time-consuming and challenging, depending on your raw materials and production processes.
The second way to determine your beverage’s nutritional content is to complete laboratory analysis for physical testing.
With both methods, the goal is to obtain accurate nutritional information so that you and your customers can make decisions based on real nutrient data.
Why do brands use third-party testing facilities, like The Lab, for nutritional analysis?
Oftentimes, creative beverage entrepreneurs are working with new and innovative ingredients that may not be in a database yet. And in other cases, some beverages contain so many ingredients that it can be difficult to gather nutritional information from manufacturers. Nutritional testing can help brands get accurate information without digging into the documentation and complex calculations involved in using databases.
Products like seltzers, kombuchas, and probiotic drinks that use fermentation, will have different nutritional content depending on the base and fermentation process. Testing is the best way to get accurate nutritional facts for those products.
In the U.S., the FDA nutrition panel is a legal, mandated document, so brands need to ensure that it is accurate. The FDA can take your product off the shelves at any time and test for accuracy and compliance with regulations. The accuracy of your FDA nutrition panel is crucial in avoiding recalls and extra costs and preserving consumers' trust in the quality of your product. If there was ever a question about your nutrition panel, you will want to have your documentation in order and up-to-date.
How do I choose where to go for nutrition testing?
You want to make sure you work with someone knowledgeable about your product category. Different product types use different methods for accurate nutritional testing. Some methods work for certain food analytes, and some methods don't. That is why you need a partner who understands the specific methods your product requires for accurate nutritional testing.
You also should make sure that you have a commercial formula, and your quality lab is familiar with it. Being prepared with your formulation will help you expedite the testing process.
When is the right time to get started with nutritional analysis or testing?
The best time to invest in nutritional testing is after you have your commercial formula and before you are ready to be on store shelves.
As you finalize your product details, such as packaging and preservation method, your original formula will most likely change. Any change in your ingredients or suppliers will require you to purchase another round of testing to validate your nutritional information. To avoid additional costs and delay, it is recommended to only order a nutritional test once all of your product details are finalized.
When you’re in the product development phase, you can save money by using the nutrition database facts and calculations to start creating a mock-up of your label. Once you’re ready to be in front of consumers, that’s when you want to invest in a validated nutrition facts panel.
Nutritional testing takes two to three weeks, so you want to make sure you give yourself enough time to make your labels correctly. Some people will do nutritional testing on a pilot run. That way, they can get their labels ready before production. It’s important to give yourself enough time to get nutritional testing done before you need labels and artwork, and all the other necessary steps are completed.
What are some of the most common nutritional testing errors people make with their beverages?
One of the biggest mistakes we see is treating hard seltzers like beer when it comes to calculating carbs. You can’t measure carbs directly. It is a calculation done by measuring protein ash in your real extract in your beverage. You can’t base your seltzer measurements on the standard factors for beer because seltzers vary in protein and ash compared to beer. You have to make sure that it's tested every time to ensure you are getting the correct carbs.
Probiotic beverages can also be more complicated when it comes to nutritional analysis. Just like hard seltzer, probiotic beverages are fermented. Fermentation can vary, so you need to understand that your nutritional content is going to vary as well.
Another thing to keep in mind is with all these light beverages and high gravity brewing where you're diluting afterward, it is not as simple to change nutrition information as you might think. Nutrition testing can guarantee a more accurate nutrition facts panel for diluted beverages as many nutrients do not have a linear relationship that can simply be adjusted with a calculator.
What advice would you give to someone just learning about nutrition testing for their beverage?
Have your commericaled formula ready and be aware of the timing. It will take about two to three weeks to complete nutritional testing, so you should plan accordingly. Make sure your methods are tailored for your beverage. Methods for calculating nutrients for beer aren't necessarily correct for hard seltzers, because they are a different beverage. For anything with fermentation, be aware of what you're adding to your fermentation and how it may affect your nutrition panel. For example, if you’re adding potassium, a yeast nutrient, that will alter your nutrition panel.
To learn more about nutrition testing, check out this full video interview with Hannah.