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How to Scale Up Your Food Production – An Overview

You’ve successfully started a small food business. You’re selling your delicious products to friends, family, and a growing group of happy customers. But, you can no longer keep up with the demand. It’s impossible to continue making the food at home or at the small shared kitchen space you started out in.

In other words: you need to scale up the production of your food.

But how? Where do you start? And what should you consider?

Sometimes it’s easy, other times not so much. We’ll guide you through the main steps to take, with plenty of links for further reading and learning.

What does scaling up mean?

Scaling up food production means that you’re increasing the size of your food production. Scaling up can be relatively small: making 50 instead of 10 muffins, or big: making 10.000 instead of 10 muffins.

Since you’re making larger quantities of your product, you may run into ‘scale up challenges’. These are very common for many food products. You may need to adjust your equipment, use different ingredients, move to a new manufacturing location, change the process steps, etc.

As such, when you scale up properly, you don’t just increase the amount of product you’re making. You’re also changing all of your processes in such a way that they are more efficient on a larger scale. Your mindset likely changes and your processes need to become more robust to handle those larger volumes.

Why scale up food production?

By scaling up your food production you can make more products. Why you would do this can have a wide variety of reasons. You may just want to satisfy more customers, earn more income, offer more people a job, or build a more sustainable business. There are many reasons, but keep in mind that not every food business has to scale up. If you’re happy where you’re at and making a good profit, a small scale can be great too, small scale manufacturing does have its advantages.

Pros and cons of scaling up

Scaling up allows you to make more products. But, it will likely also impact a lot of other factors in your business. Here we’re listing just a few to consider.

  • Scaling up will likely involve the use of more (automated) equipment to make your products.
  • Instead of making the product yourself, you may need to oversee (many) other people who make your product.
  • Your product may taste and look slightly different. Whether this is the case strongly depends on your product though.
  • The space needed to make the product will need to be larger.

When should you scale up your food production?

Before you start scaling up the production of your food product, it’s crucial that you know that you’re ready to do so. A lot of factors come into play, such as:

  • Is your current product line profitable, are you turning a profit?
  • Do you have enough staff or the right people on your team to make the transition?
  • Are you turning people away because you can’t make enough products?
  • Do you even want to scale up? Or do you quite enjoy the small(er) size you’re working at?

Here at FoodCrumbles we’re experts in the technological side of scaling up. How to change your recipe, improve your process, etc. As such, that’s what we’ll be focusing on here. However, the questions above are crucial as well. Ensure that your financial plans, sales, marketing, personnel, etc. are all in a good place when considering scaling up.

Once you’ve decided you are ready, let’s look at what will need to happen and which decisions you’ll need to make.

Step 1: Know your product

When you want to make a large quantity of your product. You’d better know that product inside out. Know what happens if common problems arise and how they will affect the product.

For instance, if you’re scaling up your homemade muffin recipe:

  • Do you know what happens when you bake your muffin too long?
  • Or too short?
  • What about if the temperature is incorrect?
  • Or if a crucial ingredient is missing?
  • What should the batter look and feel like?
  • What should the final color be?

This is all very helpful information to know when scaling up. That way, when things go wrong at some point, you’ll know how to correct them. Even if others will be making your product, this is crucial. They’ll look to you for guidance on how to change and tweak the process if things don’t go well.

Want to better understand your product? You’re at the right place! Here at FoodCrumbles, we’re all about truly understanding food and we provide a wealth of information about a wide range of foods. Just browse around, or, ask a question!

A muffin example

We’ll walk you through an example here. Let’s assume that you’re making plain muffins. You’d know that:

  • A too low baking temperature will not give a big top on your muffin
  • Baking for too long makes them dry
  • Leaving out the moisture makes the muffin crumbly
  • Leaving out the fat makes them dry

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Step 2: Get that recipe

Make sure that you have a solid, sturdy recipe written out.

Clearly describe all the ingredients you’re using. If you’re using a certain brand or type of something, be sure to include. For instance, if you’re writing down “vanilla”. Do you mean vanilla extract, or vanilla paste? Is it natural, or an artificial type?

When writing this down consider what details are crucial, and which aren’t. For instance, the exact type of vanilla might be very important, whereas any brand of pecan nuts will do.

Also be very clear on the steps you’re taking. Don’t skip steps that you’d assume others will know or understand. They likely won’t, since they don’t have the knowledge you do.

Write everything down on one set of paper.

Step 2a: Convert that recipe

Next up, you need to write the recipe down in a way that it can be scaled up to larger quantities.

You don’t want a recipe to call for 23 teaspoons or 34 cups. Instead, larger scale facilities will always use scales to measure out their quantities. It’s more accurate, easier and faster to do. As such, you’ll need to convert any volumetric recipes to weight-based recipes.

Next, you’ll need to make sure that the recipe can be easily scaled to different quantities. To do this, it’s easiest to convert a recipe to a percentage-based recipe. The overall quantity will add up to 100% and you’ll indicate which fraction is made up of which ingredient. This makes it very easy to scale a recipe to any size you want.

This is a crucial step that involves some (simple) math. Find the details in: How to scale up a recipe?

Step 2b: Make a flow diagram

Next up, it can be very helpful to make a flow diagram of your production process. This is especially helpful if you’re scaling up to pretty large, factory-scale production. Doing so helps you to visualize the individual process steps and can help you see what pieces of equipment you’d need for each step.

The muffin example

For our muffins that flow diagram may look as follows.

flow chart muffins

Step 3: Decide on the product’s pack and label

Packaging of a food product serves multiple purposes. First of all, it protects your product and helps it to stay fresh and safe for long enough. Secondly, it serves as an important marketing and communication tool.

When choosing packaging materials it is also crucial to take into account the possible impact on the environment. Some packaging materials are easy to reuse and recycle, others can’t be recycled at all and will have a bigger impact on the environment. More and more sustainable packaging options are available nowadays.

Continue learning about packaging through one of our other articles:

Step 3a: Make a label & determine nutritional value

Depending on where you produce and sell your product, you’ll need to include certain pieces of information on your packaging. You’ll likely need to have a list of ingredients, information on the nutritional value of your product, etc. Make sure to check with the applicable legislation to ensure your product meets these requirements.

Labels can be confusing, learn more:

Step 4: Decide how much you’re going to make

So you know your product, and you’ve clearly written down how to make it. Now its time to truly define how you want to scale up the recipe. Do your research to define the following:

  • How much will you be making per day?
  • Will there be a big difference in volumes between days? If so, what is the expected largest and smallest amount you’ll need to make?
    • This is important to know when making equipment decisions. If you’re always making 100kg, a 100kg mixer will be great. However, if you need to be able to make 20kg one day and 200kg the other, you might need a different type of mixer, or maybe even two types of mixers.
  • How long does your product stay fresh? The longer the shelf life, the more flexible you are in manufacturing the product.

Closely related to this decision is the rate at which you’ll need to be producing. Do you have 2, 8 or maybe 24 hours in a day to make the amount of product you need? That will impact how big your equipment needs to be.

The muffin example

Let’s assume we’ll want to make:

  • On average: 1000 muffins per day
  • On good days: 2000 muffins
  • On slow days: 500 muffins

We’ll have 8 hours per day to make them, this includes start-up and clean-up.

Step 5: Who is going to make your product?

So far, you’ve collected all the data on your current process and you’ve decided what you want to scale up to. Now it’s time to actually start scaling up. A first common decision at this step is: who is going to make your product?

Are you going to make it yourself? In that case, you’ll need to look for a location and equipment.

Or will you let another, already existing company make your product? This option is actually very common for a lot of food products. There exist a lot of companies that specialize in making food products for a variety of businesses. They’ll have the equipment, the people, etc. to make the products according to your specifications.

If you’re choosing the second option, most of your effort should be spent on finding a company in your area that fits you and can make your product. They will have their production lines and will be able to advise you on the production process.

Step 5a: Choose a process

If you decide to make your own product. It’s time to start thinking about the equipment and process that you’ll need to do so. This is where your flow chart comes in handy again. Keep in mind that the type of equipment you’ll need may be different from what you’re used to, and it may give different results.

A few examples:

  • Mixing 100kg of powders takes significantly longer than mixing just 1kg of powders. It will take more time until the composition of the powder mix is the same everywhere.
  • Cooling down 10 hot muffins is easy. Place them in a room temperature room, and they’ll cool down. However, try cooling down 10.000 muffins. You may need proper cooling and ventilation equipment to ensure the temperature in the room doesn’t get too hot.
  • Portioning out 10 pieces of yeast-risen dough may take a few minutes. Doing the same for 1000 pieces of dough will take significantly longer while the yeast continues to proof, causing the last piece of dough to be very different than the first piece.

This is one of the more complicated, but important parts of scaling up and we’ve got several resources for you to learn more:

Step 6: Run trials!

You know we’re a big fan of this: experimenting. When scaling up, doing small experiments and running trials is crucial. Does the recipe work out the way it should? What’s going wrong, what’s different?

When things go wrong during scale-up, things can get expensive very quickly due to the large scale of things. So make sure you test.

We’ve got a great article walking you through these different stages: Step by Step Guide to Scaling Up Your Food or Beverage Product

Step 7: Determine shelf life

How long can you keep your product for? Ideally, you already have a good sense of that before starting scale up since it will impact how you decide to scale.

Now that you’ve made some products in trials, use these to determine the shelf life of your product. The tests you need to do to determine the shelf life will depend on your product, its packaging material, how cleanly you work while making and packaging it, local legislation, and more.

For a deeper dive and some practical tips on how to determine the shelf life of your product, read:

Step 8: Review and finalize packaging & labels

During scale-up you might have had to change the type or quantity of ingredients in your product. As a result, the label of your package might need to change. Be sure to re-review these before finalizing them.

Looking for some inspiration?

Scaling up is exciting, but also comes with a lot of questions and uncertainties. Hopefully, this article provides you with a good starting point on your journey.

And looking for some more inspiration? Read: Food Science in large-scale catering – Netflix’ Mega Food. It shows just one of the many ways of how scaling up food production, with a focus on catering, can look like.

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  1. Hi there, thank you for this article and all the referrals to other scaling up- articles. I think it is a huge gap in my education, because I learned about all technical stuff (I studied food technology), but nothing about scaling up or how things work in a production hall. So thanks!