We're going to get straight to the point. Developing new flavors of Après is hard AF.
The drink has a complex set of ingredients (hello 4 types of organic plant protein + organic virgin coconut oil + organic coconut water) and it's shelf stable (doesn't need to be refrigerated). Given these complexities, there are a lot of steps that we need to go through to get to our final, yummy drink.
So, since we just released new flavors we thought we'd walk you through how that actually goes down and why it takes us a little longer than you'd expect. Here's how we make it happen:
1. What's the flavor? We talk to you! We asked you guys via Instagram and in emails which flavors you'd like to see next. You were pretty clear on what you wanted, so we got to work.
2. Source the ingredients. Our ingredients grow all over the world. For example, our coconut water is shipped in drums from the Phillipines. As you can imagine, finding the right ingredients with the ideal mix of nutrition, taste, etc. can take a while.
3. Flava Flave. We work with our team of beverage scientists (yes, those exist!) to formulate our first rounds of samples, and continue tweaking until we get the flavor right within our pre-specified nutrition profile and ingredient list. This part of the process is the most difficult. It can take forever to get the taste right, especially when you're working with clean ingredients and low sugar like we are. Each time our team thinks they have something great, they ship these little glass bottles full of Après to our office for us to sample and provide feedback.
4. Test, Test, Test. Once the drink meets our standard for taste, we do some consumer testing. Our favorite place to do early taste testing is in studios in San Francisco. We sample with consumers post workout and get their candid feedback on the new flavor options to understand what they liked, didn't like, and how we might improve. After a few samplings, we know whether the flavor is balanced and ready for the next step. Otherwise, it's back to step 3.
5. Run with it. Next, we have to run our new formula at our pilot plant and test for shelf stability (i.e. the drink's non-refrigerated shelf life). Shelf stability is key for our product, as it allows you to throw the drink in your purse or gym bag and not worry about it spoiling. Après is packaged in what's called a Tetra Pak, and the combination of this packaging and how its made allows the contents to have a 12+ month shelf life without preservatives or anything weird. At this point in the process, we do a small test run in Tetra Pak packaging that is well...out there. (See photo below. It's the only design they offer at this stage of the process, so we just go with it. We call it the Willy Wonka look.) Our formulation team then performs testing on it to see how the formula holds up over time (clumping and flavor loss are no-no's). In just 3-4 weeks in an accelerated setting, we can see (roughly) how Après will taste in 8-12 months. Pretty cool!
This photo represents the three stages of our production. On the left are the glass bottles we start with followed by the "Willy Wonka packaging" and finally, the actual product.
6. Design Packaging. After we pass stability testing, we've got a formula we love, a badass ingredient list, and a nutrition fact panel we are excited to stand behind. Next up is designing packaging for the new flavor. Our design team is a mix of artistic creatives and perfectionists whose opinions don't always align, so you can imagine how long this process takes. We are relentless in our search to find the perfect fit but we are SO excited about where we landed.
7. It Goes Down. Now, we've got a tasty formula and packaging we love, so it's time to actually press go and put the liquid in the bottle. This all happens at our co-packer. They are the ones that actually bring Après to life. Each time we scale up in this process, meaning as we go from our glass bottles to Willy Wonka packaging, to the final process, we are using different pieces of equipment to make the drink. So, we are always a little tense until we get to taste the final product.
8. Show Time! Our co-packer makes the drink and then the beverage is safety tested for 12-14 days to make sure the liquid is completely sterile. Once it's cleared, it's shipped in its beautiful packaging to our warehouses and office. This part is SO nerve racking because when Après arrives, we still haven't tasted it in its final form. As soon as we get it, we do a final round of tasting with the team to make sure it's up to our standards. Then, it's sent to you!
This whole process can take months and months depending on how complex the flavor is and how the liquid holds up in stability testing. But, we've made it through all of the steps and are so happy to announce our new Cold Brew Coffee and Vanilla flavors.
xx Team Après