Here at MOD, we’re in a constant state of experimentation and product development. In a way, we’re an assembly line of new products, with at least two new products coming out every month this year – and in some months, many more.
But how is a new product developed? How does it go from an idea to a six-pack on the shelf? How many people are involved?
This week, we’ll be releasing Spectrum Birthday Cake, back by popular demand. In honour of this anticipated release, we thought we’d take you through how we take each of our new releases from conception to reality, through the perspective of how we created one of our most popular and bizarro beer releases.
There’s no singular way we come up with new beer or product ideas. Inspiration comes from all directions. We tend to focus on consumer insights to drive any new product idea, usually by looking at what’s trending locally and what’s popular in the US.
With Spectrum in particular, we take inspiration from unusual places, like food or drink flavours not commonly associated with beer, but which can then be replicated into one. So it was with Birthday Cake, which was inspired by a Timbit.
“This is a very Canadian way of finding a recipe,” says Paul Mroczek, co-founder and president of MOD Beverage.
“I noticed that the Birthday Cake donut was the most popular Timbit when Tim Horton’s released it a couple years back. It was the first one to go whenever someone brought a box of Timbits around,” he says, careful to add, “Not that I eat a lot of Timbits…”
Paul then started noticing Birthday Cake-flavoured sweets all over the place. The Birthday Cake zeitgeist had arrived.
“I thought, ‘This is unique enough, interesting enough, maybe we should try to make a beer out of that’,” he says.
Once a new concept is ready for development, it’s kicked over to MOD’s Market and Channel Director, Kendra Belsheim, who quarterbacks every new idea until it hits the market. It’s her job to ensure the products are developed properly and to ensure all markets we sell to are purchasing it.
On any given week, she’s collaborating with around 100 different people to ensure something like Birthday Cake (along with everything else) is available on store shelves: warehouses managers, distributors, government agents, sales representative, liquor stores all across the country, plus everyone on MOD’s in-house team that touches the product.
Her first job, alongside Paul, is to figure out the release date of a new product, then plan backward from there.
“The release date is generally dictated by the brand plans and the concept of the beer,” Kendra says.
Often, a new concept is matched to a particular season. Spectrum Margarita Gose was first launched in Summer 2018 to suit the warm weather vibes. Other times, it’s about mimicking what other companies are doing. Spectrum Pumpkin Spiced Latte Ale was timed for release the same day that Starbuck’s released its actual Pumpkin Spice Latte last fall.
Birthday Cake was a little different. It was first released in February 2020, when there was a gap in the release schedule. It occurred to Paul that February statistically has the least number of birthdays in any given year, so he cheekily launched Birthday Cake with that in mind.
“Because Birthday Cake was a success last February, we thought he’d try to replicate that this year,” Kendra says.
Once the release date is figured out, the project is kicked over in two directions to work on it simultaneously, over MOD’s in-house innovation team and its marketing team.
The innovation team includes Evan Doan, MOD’s Innovation and Efficiency Manager, who develops all recipes for us.
Because Spectrum doesn’t have a taproom (yet), we’re unable to test small batches on draft, so bench testing is needed in advance to ensure it’s, you know, worthy of human consumption. For new concepts, it can take between 1-3 months of bench testing, though a recipe is usually developed and ready for production after two trails, which takes about a month.
When developing the Birthday Cake recipe, Evan knew that utilizing cake ingredients – eggs, wheat, sugar, etc. – would wreak havoc on the fermentation process. Instead he bought a birthday cake recipe box from the grocery store, which is a kind of angel cake. He then sent that cake to a flavouring agency, which was able to use natural extracts that highlighted cake flavours in a way that was manageable in the brew process without causing fermentation issues at a large scale.
“It was one of those times where the recipe development just came together easily,” Evan says.
The marketing team develops the packaging concept, the name of the beer (if a name hasn’t already been created), and any campaign that might be involved in the launch and ongoing sale of the beer.
While this is going on, Kendra will work on the government plan – what parameters the product needs to work within to fit on a shelf in every province in Canada. Birthday Cake is carried in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba, so she needs to navigate each provinces requirement for alcohol sales and ensure its listed. It can be a lengthy process and needs to be done for every new product in every SKU (industry speak for stock-keeping unit, or each format of every new release).
A side note here: We’re making this seem like this is all worked on in silos. It’s not. While everyone is responsible for some aspect of the product development, there’s constant collaboration and discussion of how things will develop. Everyone’s contributing to various stages any given time.
Once recipes and artwork are completed, everything is scheduled for production. Once it’s ready for market, our sales local sales take over. You buy it. You drink it. Hopefully you enjoy it, and everyone does the same thing again.
Spectrum Birthday Cake is available at liquor retailers throughout BC, Alberta and Manitoba.