Dr. David Thomas is a flavour genius.Thomas is the executive vice president of research and development at Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and he’s in charge of creating the next big-time products for the beverage giant.
“Taste is king,” Thomas told us. “We know that. So what we really need to do is create products that start with the consumer and end with the consumer.”
It’s all about connecting the science and technology that the company has developed with the insights it has learned about what people want.
To come up with a product like Dr Pepper Cherry, Thomas said that they may put 40 prototypes together, then test all the qualitative and quantitative data they can get. Then there’s the descriptive analysis, with the feedback going back to developers. Then comes location tests and tests with consumers.
Finally, they narrow it down to the top five, and ultimately whittle it down to the final one, which gets launched.
It’s an incredibly complex world, assured Thomas. To get a feel for what it takes to get the job done, all you have to do is look at Thomas, his staff and their facilities.
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Pepper
Thomas’ background is in ingredients. He has a masters and a PhD in food science, and knows all about “flavour biochemistry.”
He has a team of “flavorists.” These are scientists trained in the flavour industry, which Thomas described as a “blending of art and science.” They help put the actual flavours together.
There are also “sensory scientists,” who lead the analysis of the products regarding consumer preferences and tasting. Products get their own lexicons, because the analysts need to be consistent when describing flavours.
The R&D site is right inside the Dr Pepper Snapple Group headquarters in Plano, TX, which is valuable because it lets the team respond nimbly, said Thomas.
And there’s even a state-of-the-art pilot plant with the ability to emulate all the commercial-scale processes needed ensure that a product can be made on a large scale — a fundamentally important part of a product launch. On the other side of the wall there’s a major, full-scale manufacturing centre where they can do trials when the product is deemed ready.
“Quality by manufacturing meets quality by design,” said Thomas. “It’s pretty easy to put a beverage together in a beaker, but it’s another thing when there’s a 100-gallon batch tank.”
Photo: Dr Pepper
The latest breakthrough for Thomas and his team involves the company’s line of 10-calorie beverages. The first of them, Dr Pepper 10, has seen success since hitting the market in 2011.Dr Pepper has “cracked the code” on “no aftertaste and more full-bodied mouth feel,” declares Thomas proudly.
“We hear it all the time that we’ve got great tasting diet — one of the best tasting diets,” he says. “We know there’s new technology being developed. That we can make advancements.”
Something like Dr Pepper 10 — and its in-testing 10-cal compatriots 7-Up, Sunkist, A&W, Canada Dry and RC — needs to be marketed very carefully though.
“We’re trying to thread the needle with [Dr Pepper 10],” says Thomas.
That drink had a male-oriented marketing campaign that attempted to get men away from thinking of a low-calorie offering as “diet.” The new 10-cal drinks will be marketed to a broader audience.
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