Special edition: The New product development process

Why do we add milk to coffee? Bridging the gap between sensory research and consumer insights

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Marketing

Sara Lee‘s100% Arabica coffee and mild roasting process were actually well-suited to its target audience, says Diana Derval
Sara Lee‘s100% Arabica coffee and mild roasting process were actually well-suited to its target audience, says Diana Derval
Why do Swedes like watery coffee? And why do two thirds of Dutch consumers add milk to theirs?  Because they prefer the taste, or because it’s just a tradition?

And why does rough toilet paper sell better in some regions than others? Is it because shoppers in these areas can’t afford soft quilted paper, because they have grown up with rougher paper, or because they are simply less sensitive to touch and pain?

Why is my product selling better here than there?

The answer to the question ‘why is my product selling better here than there?’ might be explained by cultural or socio-economic factors, but sensory factors are equally important, claims Diana Derval, president of DervalResearch.

Her first client in the food industry was Sara Lee, which wanted to know more about consumer coffee preferences after getting feedback suggesting it should emulate Nespresso with a stronger flavor in its Senseo single serve pods, she reveals.

When Derval set out to determine the best taste profile for Senseo, she analyzed the sensory profile of target consumers and found they were mainly ‘medium to super tasters’, and thus more sensitive to bitterness than Nespresso drinkers, who like stronger coffee.

Thus Sara Lee‘s 100% Arabica coffee and mild roasting process were actually well-suited to its target audience, she said. The negative feedback was coming from consumers that were not in Senseo’s target audience.

“Consumers with fewer taste buds are often attracted by a machine making dark roast coffee like Nespresso. Their spouse then mitigates the bitterness with added hot water, sugar or milk​."

Observing your target consumers is more effective than asking them questions

To truly understand consumers, observe them in their natural environment...

Typically, about 25% of the population are super tasters (sensitive to bitterness, fat, sweetness, alcohol), 50% are medium tasters (still pick up the bitterness of aspartame and prefer Coke Zero to Diet Coke) and 25% are non-tasters (can eat or drink almost anything), claims Derval.

Women are more likely to be super tasters than men, so from a sensory perspective it is odd that Coke Zero is targeted at men, adds Derval, who also divides consumers into ‘super inhalers’ (mainly women, sensitive to chemicals), ‘medium inhalers’ and ‘non-inhalers’; and ‘super vibrators’ (mainly women, very sensitive to touch), ‘medium vibrators’ and ‘non-vibrators’ (mainly men, resistant to cold, pain, heat).

The latter could explain why some people that can afford to buy super-soft quilted paper still buy rougher, cheaper varieties, she adds. “If you ask people to test the softness of toilet paper, the results show that there is a big variation, as some people are simply far better than others at noticing it.”

In all cases, observing your target consumers is “more effective than asking them questions​”, she says.

“Identifying the jobs, hobbies, motivations and behavior of your target customers helps generate relevant insights.”

Wrigley: Does overall liking really mean anything?

Kepa Barcenas of the Wrigley Global Innovation Center in Chicago, also stressed the importance of simply watching consumers rather than asking them questions during a presentation at the IFT show last month.

He added: “Does overall liking really mean anything? I'm not a big fan of blind taste testing. Is it the right metric to measure for our products?”

To truly understand consumers, he said, the best approach is to observe them in their natural environment.

PepsiCo director of sensory & consumer science and statistics, James Yuan PhD, agreed that the most important thing is to engage target consumers early and throughout the new product development process.

“And by target consumer I don’t mean someone at your church or school”, ​he stressed.” If you can’t get your target consumer, you’re better off not talking to consumers at all.”

PepsiCo uses a variety of methods to get consumer feedback including observational research - watching target consumers interact with products in their homes - and getting consumers to make video diaries using flip cameras, he said.

“This provides deeper insights​."

You have to bring the consumer insight and sensory folks together

Stuart Schwartz, md, client development and corporate marketing at consultancy In4mation insights, says consumers often won’t see a new product until a fully-fledged prototype has been developed, at which point a significant amount of time and money has already been spent - and possibly wasted.

But one of the biggest barriers to progress is the failure to get the consumer insights and marketing people in the same room with the sensory people early enough, he says.

“You have to bring the marketing and consumer insight and sensory folks together; the packaging and consumer research people together, and R&D with all of the above.

“Some very big companies are still working in silos. They all tell you they have a ‘cross functional’ approach, but in reality, this is often not the case.”

Related topics R&D Beverage Dairy

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1 comment

Coffee + Cream...

Posted by Gail,

I enjoy a mild coffee, with cream for the taste. I find it relaxing and therapeutic...

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