Here are some questions we get asked, and some we wish we were asked more often.  It's blunt, but honest. 

Here at smallscalebottling.com we love helping other people see their dreams come true and turn in to a product.  We have the flexibility to do many things that larger contract bottlers can't, or won't do.  Our service is personal.  We weren't set up as a contract bottler - we're a small soft drinks producer that happens to also help other people.  This means that we are quite busy and also that we understand the frustrations that you may experience.  It also means that we operate very differently.  There are no large scale machines that do the work - we are a labour intensive operation.  We cannot work at the same rate as a machine led operation and we cannot do it for the same cost - not because we won't but because we'd be bankrupt if we did.  So hopefully this FAQ will help me to remind you of what we can and cannot do.

Click the links below to go to the answer to your question

Q:What is it that you do when you bottle my product?  What am I paying for?
Q: Coke etc must make their products for only a few pennies per bottle.  I know you'll be more expensive, but will you be muchmore expensive?
Q: Can you do any better on the pricing for my trial run? 
Q: What can I do to get the price down? 
Q:  Your prices are higher than X,Y or Z contract filler - you'll need to be cheaper.
Q:  Can you scale up to meet my anticipated demand?
Q:  My product is still/hotfill etc which I think will be simpler to fill.  Will this make it cheaper?
Q: How do I make a soft drink?
Q: Do you have contact that I can use to buy bottles etc?
Q: How much money can I make?


 

What 'Bottling' Really Is

Bottling can be weird.  You think you know what you want, and then all of a sudden there's a million questions you need to answer.  Maybe you know the answers, maybe you need some help.

So what is it that we do as a bottler exactly?

First, let's start with what we don't do:  We don't offer to make you a product.  Now, that may sound counter intuitive, but bear with us for a minute.

What we do do:  We apply a pre-agreed sets of processes upon a set of materials and put it in to a bottle.  

So how are those two things different?

In your eyes, as the customer, what you want is your product to be bottled - but what is your product?  Is it a set of ingredients in a bottle?  No, not really.  Your 'product' is (generally speaking) a tasty beverage, free from any flaws, with a great shelf-life, some amazing labeling and you can go out an sell it or give it away without a second thought.  In actual fact most of those things are outside of our control, and outside of our remit to control.  It may appear to you that once we've applied our set of processes the same end result appears, and more often than not that is the case, but not in every case.

Let's look at your product in more detail:

  • Tasty
  • Flaw Free
  • Shelf Life
  • Labelling
  • Guaranteed (you don't have to give it a second thought)

Tasty:  When you provide us with your ingredients, or pre-blended ingredients, that is what they are - raw materials.  We don't know the quality of what you have provided us, most often neither do you exactly.  We can't guarantee that when we follow your instructions that you will get the result you're after.

Flaw Free:  OK, so let's assume that we've not made some massive cock-up in the actual bottling process and that the caps are actually on the bottles correctly etc.  Outside of that we have no idea of what will constitute a flaw to you.  What you may think is obvious we may not.  We've seen products that we wouldn't be happy to sell fly out of the door when sold - we've learned not to second guess other peoples tastes.  Is sediment, for example, a flaw, or is is character, personality and an element of the crafted nature of your product from raw ingredients, rather than an eyesore floating around in the bottle that may put people off.  We don't know, and you shouldn't expect us to!

Shelf-Life:  We don't offer shelf-life testing in-house, and we can't advise on what yours may be.  Your product is unique to you, with a unique set of ingredients, titratable acid, pH levels, Brix, Fruit Juice concentration, vitamins, minerals etc. You get the idea.  And then your choice of preservation method and bottle material will have an influence.

Labelling: We can apply the label you ask us to (assuming it fits), but that is a design choice not made by us.  It may look bad, be hideous to apply or a host of other issues.  One mans rustic label is another mans unprofessional label and we can't decide that for you.

Guarantees:  There are no guarantees in this - any number of factors, both known and unknown, can influence your product - so we don't make promises we can't keep.

 

Because of all of these factors we don't make 'product'.  We process your materials and put it into a vessel of your choosing.  We agree the process with you - any and all aspects of the process.  Storage conditions, temperatures, fill heights, caps, carbonation levels, pasteurisation temperatures and times.  None of these guarantee the outcome, but we document and follow your instructions to ensure that you get from us what you believe is right for the outcome you desire - but what you pay for is the instructions to be followed, not the product at the end of it.

Q: Coke etc must make their products for only a few pennies per bottle.  I know you'll be more expensive, but will you be much  more expensive?

A:  Yes.  If you're making 1,000,000+ bottles per day then you get economies of scale that we couldn't even imagine.  Put it this way:  Look at your ingredients costs and imagine how much cheaper they would be if you were to buy 100,000 times the amount you're looking at now.  Now imagine that scaled up to everything including machinery, labour, power etc.  Your costs can  go down but mainly in the area of label costs, boxes etc.  Our costs only go up as we increase our space requirements, labour etc.
 

Q: Can you do any better on the pricing for my trial run? 

A: No.  In fact your first trial run will probably be done on an hourly rate.   We are an artisan bottler, not Coca-Cola or Pepsi.  This means we can be flexible enough to take your product when no-one else will.  It also means that each product we bottle is different, and different = time.  Time = money for us, so we pass it on to you.  You may of course be lucky enough to do something almost identical to what we've done before - but most customers aren't.
 

Q: What can I do to get the price down? 

A:  Please see our DIY prices page.

Q:  Your prices are higher than X,Y or Z contract filler - you'll need to be cheaper. 

A:  In all likelihood the reason you're not going to go to X,Y or Z filler is because you either don't have the volume to process or because they'll charge you for 12/24 pallets when you want a lot less.  We can't be cheaper because it takes us 7 staff to do what they do with one and a machine.

Q:  Please ?! *insert extremely valid reason here*

A:  No.  I want  to help, but if you want us to still be here in 12 months then I can't.  Which is actually against every philanthropic and nice bone in our bodies.  Which is we're writing it here.


Q:  Can you scale up to meet my anticipated demand?   *hint - there'll be lots of business coming your way in the future if you can give me a better price now*

A:  Yes.  As long as you're willing to pay now  for the machinery you need in the future.  That means we need to make a profit now .  So no, no big discounts based on anticipated demand. Or even actual demand now to be honest. My staff still have to work just as hard and be paid the same if you bottle 600 litres or 6000 litres and there's enough work for me not to rob from Peter to pay Paul.  Saying that, at the moment we are working on implementing an automated bottling line, so watch this space!

Q:  My product is still/hotfill etc which I think will be simpler to fill.  Will this make it cheaper?

A:  Possibly, yes!  It won't change the day rate, but it may mean that more bottles can be processed per day.  Until we've done a trial run we won't know for sure.  If it can be done cheaper then great!

Dummies Guide To Bottling & Case-Studies

------Aka Reality Check Ahoy!------

We love dealing with new customers, new startups, inventive people and the like.  We take time to hand-hold though a very convoluted process and industry.  Ignorance is absolute bliss - we know this from experience.  A little naivety or a massive bank balance is almost a requirement to get into this game!  The following is a little note from our experiences that we want to ‘head off at the pass’.  It may be a little more brutal, or blunt, than our average style of communication but these are important things that we believe you really need to know.  Many of our customers are new to manufacturing and a part of our job is ensuring that you know that ‘New’ in New Product Development means just that – so no-one knows exactly what the outcome will be.

 

Things you need to know:

·         We are a bottler.  This means we specialise in putting things IN to bottles.  We are not:

    • Chemical Analysts
    • Preservation Consultants
    • Food Technologists
    • Nutritional Testers
    • A Laboratory
    • Shelf Life Testers
    • Mind Readers
  • We will gladly offer advice where we believe it is of use - this is not “Professional Advice”, but knowledge that we have gleaned from experience in our field.  It may not be the absolute right answer for you or your product.
  • Our “field” is huge.  And we mean really huge.  There are many ways of achieving a product being put into a bottle, many ways of preserving etc.  This means that we do not know what you want unless you explain it to us, and even then we may not have the perfect answer.  If you do not know then we will have an educated guess at your needs - we can put your product into a bottle, but we do not know if it is the best way to do it for your product.  That’s why we do sample runs, that’s why we ask for benchmarks.
  • A sample by someone else, or a lab, or a flavour house, is not the same as a sample made under manufacturing conditions using the process or equipment that we, or anyone else, will use.  If you want to know how your product will look/feel/last when made by us then you will need to get a sample made by us.
  • Testing & sampling costs money.  Mistakes can cost more.  It is your choice which way to go, but to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
  • We take everything we know, distil it to a process, apply a checklist to that process which you sign off on and then do the job. We do not create your ‘product’, we apply a procedure to materials.  If we complete the job and the result is not to your satisfaction but we have done everything that we said we would or could, then that is the result you have to accept.  It may sound cruel but you are taking a risk in making a new product – and we can’t absolve you of that risk, only mitigate it by offering suggestions where we can. 

  

Things to know when working with us

We’re small!  That means we pay attention to detail, but it can also mean that we’re not available on the end of the phone when you want us (we’re not desk jockeys, more’s the pity), so please keep trying, or send an email.  If you don’t speak to us about something then we can’t tell you if you’re on the right track or about to make a potential mistake.

Storage!  Because we’re small we can’t offer limitless stock holding.  If you want to ship something then we may have to tell you to wait, or that we’ll need to have it in smaller amounts.  We do charge for storage, but even paying for storage doesn’t make more of it available in our building, so please check with us – don’t assume we can hold or perhaps even have the space for your shipment.

Shipping Stuff To Us!  We need to know what is coming in, and when, so we’ll give you a form to complete.  It’s really important that you do this and include all the info we need on the shipment, otherwise we’ll refuse the shipment and it will go back to wherever it came from.

Fees!  Yes, we have to charge fees.  For Receiving & Handling, Storage, Late Payments etc. 

Insurance!  Get some!  Our cover is very limited, and our T&Cs tell you more on that front, but we expect all of our customers to arrange for their own insurance if they have something valuable that we’re either making or storing for them.

Liability!  If something goes wrong, who’s liable for it?  If we’ve been grossly negligent in our actions, then it’s us.  If something goes wrong but we’ve done what has been asked of us then it isn’t.  We limit the liability costs through our T&Cs, and the liability statement that we ask you to complete.

Forms!  We have a few different forms, and they can be a pain, but we do it because we have experience of what happens when customers aren’t completely sure, or don’t understand our resources, or made assumptions about what is available. 

Payments!  A deposit is required up-front, and the balance on collection or delivery.  If you would like to check our work prior to shipping then you may, but nothing leaves the building unless it’s been paid for.

T&C’s!  They are there for a reason.  They contain a LOT of useful information, including fees, liability and lots of other boring but important things.  Please read them!

Boxes!  We use two stardardised boxes – 12x9x9” and 12x12x12”.  This is all we can provide unless you are prepared to order 600-1,000 off your own custom sized box.  We will put in to the best sized box that we can, and make it fit as best we can.

Ingredients!  Where we provide them for you then before the order is placed with our supplier then we will issue you a pro-forma invoice.

There are limits! Not just our patience, but more specifically there are limits to what our equipment, your product and the process needed can achieve.  That someone else may be able to manage to do what we, or you, cannot with the resources & equipment we have available is utterly, utterly, irrelevant.

  

Case Studies

 

Case Study 1
Product:  Infusion
Turning a retail dry herbal infusion in to a shelf-stable product in both concentrated & RTD formats.  
Starting with testing various infusion methods to ascertain viability of both hot and cold brewing, as well as brew times, we decided upon a process that gave the customer the best ‘bang for their buck’.  From bottle sourcing to preservation, we assisted the customer to get the right overall balance of ‘premium’ and pragmatism. 
Outcome:  The customer had an almost instantaneous hit on their hands.  Scaling the production is the next task, as hitting high-street multiples is on the near horizon, with letters of intent already in hand.

 

Case Study 2

Product: Carbonated Soft Drink (CSD) – 330ml bottle, pasteurised, 3 SKUs.

Sample runs and tests are important

Having worked with this customer as a consultant paid for by our customers on other products we had high hopes for a stress-free production run.  The customer provided pre-printed boxes, bottles, caps, syrups and pallets on which to ship the final product.  Labels arrived the day before production was due to start.

The customer provided a Brix rate for us to test the blended product against.

There was no opportunity to test the customer’s labels prior to bottling, due to the timing of their arrival.  Upon production we found that the bottle sides were not quite as straight as they should be, and a combination of fluted bottle, and the length of the label meant that there would be some bubbling or creasing, which could not be avoided and was accepted by the customer.

We noticed fobbing (foaming of product) during bottling, and agreed with the customer to add an anti-foaming agent in to the product to minimise the risk of loss of carbonation.

Once shipped the customer was not happy with the fill heights as they were a slightly lower than they wanted, even though they were measured using lab-spec equipment.  Due to the excess of fobbing the consistency of carbonation in one particularly problematic product of the three was inconsistent, which could not be corrected for during bottling as it was a product based issue.

Outcome:  Because a sample run was not taken ahead of bottling (during which any problems would have become evident), the outcome was less than ideal for the customer, and therefore for us.  All of the QC controls that were in place were correct and checked to the customer’s given standard.  Every standard that we measured was within tolerances, only those standards which were not given were problematic.

 

Case Study 3
Product: Ginger based non-alcoholic liqueur
Getting it done, right
The customer approached us after a series of poor results from their current ‘big’ bottler.  They were having issues with yeast growth, even after pasteurisation.  Their bottler could not provide adequate documentation to any alternations that they had made to the product.  After doing multiple tests we ascertained the correct new recipe, produced a test batch and shipped it to the customer.  Since then we have been bottling for this customer on a monthly basis without issue.
Outcome:  Sampling and testing pay dividend.  The production costs are higher with us than their previous bottler, but a lack of storage requirements for large-scale runs, on-demand bottling and consistent, high quality product make it more than worthwhile for the customer.

 

 

How to develop a drink the way we might do it in-house

1.     Make a flavour you like.

2.     Work out your approximate ingredients, then send it, and a sample of your flavour that you like sent to a new product development specialist, laboratory, flavour house or the like to get your recipe commercialised with industrial ingredients.

3.     Get a sample syrup or product back.

4.     Taste it, test it, do whatever needs to happen until you’re sure that the end result is what you were looking for.  This may require doing this sampling process many times.

5.     Get a larger sample and then get your bottler to make a pilot test run.  This might only be a few bottles, a few litres, or it might have to be hundreds of litres depending on how small they can process a pilot run.  It may be that you get a run done on a ‘pilot line’, which is not what your full production line processing equipment will be.  This is important to know.

6.     Send that test run off to a lab, get the shelf life tests, nutritional analysis etc., or whatever is required done.

7.     Wait until that’s complete.

8.     Take that information, give it to whomever is designing your labels so that your ingredients declaration/nutritional information etc. can be updated.

9.     If you’re happy with that result then get a full production line test run done.  Go for the minimum run size.  That might be a lot, depending on your choice of bottler.

10.                        Take that run, send that off to be shelf-life tested/nutritional analysis tested too.  Make sure that the two tests you’ve had done are the same, if not then you need to work out why.  This is the point at which the risk is greatest.

11.                        If all is well, full production can commence.

At any point be aware that something can go badly wrong for inexplicable reasons.  This has to accepted, move on, and try again.  If it costs you a small amount of money then you’ve done well.  If it costs you a lot more than you thought you could afford then that is closer to the norm (not the norm for every customer, but the norm for when a problem does occur).  Be aware that at least the first “full” production run you do is still part of your development process.  Development costs money - if you can’t afford to lose that money then it may be that you have to rethink your production size.

 

“Success is a measure of how well you can move from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Useful Links:

For Shelf-life testing you need to search out ‘accelerated’ shelf life testing, otherwise you will have to wait 18 months to test your 18 month shelf life!

Try:

PAS Labs
http://www.paslabs.co.uk/food-safety/microbial-shelf-life-assurance-testing.html

Flavometrix
http://www.flavometrix.co.uk/Shelflife.html

ALS
http://www.als-testing.co.uk/foodanddrinktesting/microbiologicaltesting/  

Geneius Labs
http://www.geneiuslabs.co.uk/

 

What To Expect

 

Prior to bottling we will have taken a deposit of no less than 50% of the cost of the anticipated time.  50% of this deposit is non-refundable. 

We do expect our customers to be with us to check the quality of the product, and the procedures that we’re using.  Your unstated expectations are impossible for us to know. 

Generally speaking our hours are 9am ‘til 5:30pm.  We would normally have two members of staff on hand.  You are welcome to assist to increase the throughput.

 Our equipment:

~600 litre insulated chilled water tank (SS):  We chill water in this tank, and add it to your product blend if required.

~600 litre blending tank with mixing blade (SS):  Taking your ingredients, they are added to this tank along with water from a metered, filtered municipal supply (or spring water at your request – additional charges apply).  They are then blended together using the mixing blade.

~1,000 litre insulated tank (SS) (on request)

~500 litre tank (SS) (on request)

~400 litre heated tank (SS):  18 KW in-tank SS heating element. (on request)

3 x 25 litre indirect heating vessels:  Can be used for small batch pasteurisation, and some are suitable for heating product/hot filling/brewing.

2 head filler/carbonator: For filling still products, or carbonating and filling.  Carbonation levels will vary for each customer, and some time/experimentation may be required to achieve the ‘perfect’ level for you.  Carbonation is achieved in 25 litre batches, so increasing carbonation will require emptying the 25 litre tank before increasing the carbonation level, which may take time.

Manual Crown Capper

Manual Ring-Pull Crown Capper

Automatic ROPP Capper:  Bottles should be tested to ascertain compatibility before bottling.

Automatic Labeller:  This takes 46mm core, leading edge right, roll fed labels.  Again, your labels and your bottles should be tested before bottling.  Labels are patch or single wrap.  We cannot apply front/back twin labels, or neck labels, automatically.  This may have to be done by hand if required, or you can take them from site and label them yourselves at your convenience.

Pasteuriser:  In-bottle pasteuriser, water bath method.  Your bottles will be immersed in water and maintained at a temperature of 70-72C for 20 minutes.  Cooling is done by ambient air temperature.

Scales: Micro-Scales – 0-200g, resolution 0.1g; Standard Scales 0-5Kg, resolution 1g.

Brix Refractometers: 0-32Brix, resolution 0.2 Brix; 58-90Brix, resolution 1Brix.

Various volumetric measurement equipment including syringes (0,02ml resolution+), measuring jugs, lab spec measuring cylinders, Pyrex labware.

 Your timed day will include:

 ·         Preparation

o   Bulk Manufacture of product
o   Setup & testing of equipment

·         Bottling

o   Experimentation may be required to achieve your desired results
o   Labelling
o   Boxing
o   Palletising
o   Clean-Down

 You will not be able to remove goods from site unless proof of final payment has been made if there is any balance outstanding.

 If not all of the bulk-produced product was used, then you have the choice of disposing of the product, removing it from site (we can arrange to ship it to an off-site chilled/frozen storage facility), or for us to continue the bottling either that day, or the next day, at additional cost.

 We would, once again, remind you that your initial bottling run, at least, will be experimental.  This means that we do not know the answer to your questions about how easy/fast/expensive your production will be until we have tried bottling your product.  We have not seen your product before, and do not know how it will react under bottling conditions. Again, please view this as a non-commercial, experimental run, and if you get a commercial quality product at the end of it then all the better, but it is by no means guaranteed that you will have any saleable product.  As a processor our job is to process to certain standards.  The many variables - everything from thickness of cap material that relates to maximum tightness of closure to fill heights effecting explosive pressure build-up during pasteurisation – that there are can only be determined through experimentation, which is what your initial bottling run(s) will be.

 Please note, and it’s included in our T&Cs, of which this pertains to, that we are not liable for your ‘product’ going wrong.  Your job is to define standards, and ours is to execute the work to those standards within a remit of what our processes and equipment, and your product, allows.

 

Preparing for the Ride
(keep your hands inside the ‘coaster at all times)

Don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel.  Your product is new, and different.  That, often, is good enough to get you in many doors in an industry that it hardly well known for having small players in the local market that can scale to larger than their very local area and local market stalls.  Simply not being available on a supermarket shelf is often enough to get you in to local stockists – yes, seriously.

Don’t think you have to ‘outdo’ your competition on every front.  They make a successful business out of what they do – they aren’t ‘all bad’, and your product won’t be ‘all good’.  Learn to live in the grey areas until you have the financial backing to do the things that you want.

Your dreams have to stand up in the real world.  Don’t mistake being able to make a good product for being able to make a good business out of it.

Don’t expect to make healthy profit, at least for the first 6-12 months.  You will be doing well to cover the costs, so don’t set your expectations too high.  Remember that you need to get your product to market – that means high costs and low revenues in the short term – and that applies to everything from manufacturing to marketing and logistics.

Don’t think you have to do everything in one go.  Get your business head on first.  Get the product to be as good as it can be for a reasonable price.  Then continue to make changes in formulation, processing and such as you grow and your product sales, and customer feedback, progress.  Remember that your retailers and end users will not think about the product in anywhere near as much detail as you.  The end consumer thinks “do I like it” (flavour/other benefits), “does it make me feel good about the purchase” (branding and positioning), then based on these two previous answers “does it justify its cost to me”.  Doing anything over and above what it takes to get a positive answer to the above three questions is likely to be an unjustifiable cost in the short term unless you have significant financial backing.

It’s often better to get it done, than to get it done perfectly.  Your customers will not know the difference, and getting to market with a product rather than spending months trying to get some small part right, that potentially only you will notice, could be a fool’s errand.  Many customers do this, and then we have to point out that the costs associated with their perfect product simply cannot be made to work at our scale.  Example:  A customer of ours didn’t notice until we pointed out, over 6 months after their introduction, that our batch codes were a small sticker on the reverse of the bottle.  Hardly the prettiest of solutions, not inconspicuous, but pragmatic, cheap, and effective.  Thousands of bottles had been sold and they never even noticed.