Speaking at the recent Research Chefs Association conference in Atlanta, Georgia, Patrick said that product developers should spend time thinking about how they talk about texture, and involve company executives as well as employees working on product development in the process of deciding the exact meaning of words such as ‘creamy’, ‘mouth-coating’ or ‘brittleness’. This allows the entire company to be clear about which attributes are desirable in a finished product.
“To talk texture you need a language,” Patrick said. “You need a more deliberate method of defining texture…Consumer feedback is not very precise.”
He said that consumer terms might include words such as creamy, gloopy, syrupy, gloppy, mushy, or velvety, but a company developing a new product needs to know exactly what consumers mean by those terms in order to target particular characteristics. More useful than consumer feedback about texture is evaluating the various textural qualities of products in-house, Patrick said.
“The whole team takes a group of benchmark products and defines them together, then defines the target attribute,” he said.
Basic terms might include mouth-coating, thickness, melt-away, moist, wet, brittleness, and grainy. Patrick suggested a three-stage evaluation: visual, mechanical, and oral, with the team evaluating texture at each point in the process.
He said that developing this common language to describe texture is crucial to product development as texture can make an enormous difference in terms of consumer acceptance of a product. Currently, many product developers are overly focused on flavor alone, he said, and low-viscosity beverages, such as teas, represent one area in which there is particular potential for enhancing consumer experience of a product through subtle textural differences.
“Texture is under-utilized as product differentiator. Flavor is not more important than texture. Texture is more than viscosity,” Patrick said.
He added that texture can influence taste perception, with products seeming more or less sweet or salty, for example, depending on textural attributes.