The increase in disposable income amongst consumers makes conventional demographics a poor predictor of product choice. Once, the education, gender, ethnic origin and age of consumers were pretty good indicators of what products people would buy and consume. The information explosion of the internet tells everyone about the latest trends in food and consumer products. Gender stereotypes are being broken down constantly. Global markets and the 2nd generation children of immigrants have led to the creation of fusion cuisines that cross cultural divides. Children have become exposed to a much greater range of foods at an earlier stage and the “Silver Dollars” are travelling and trying new cuisines all the time. When money is not a barrier, people choose products that they like! Product choice can be driven by habit, by context or by genetic pre-determination. In food and beverage product development, our objective is to have our new consumer purchase our product again and again. This means that the product has to deliver sensory satisfaction.
The Sensory Challenge
You can’t please everyone. What do we know about consumers? No one is “average”. There is no “universally liked product”, not even water. When asked directly about purchase and consumption, consumers lie. Given these facts, how do we go about developing a successful consumer product? We can’t make every individual consumer happy, so we must find groups of similar consumers that we can tailor products for. The conventional approach is to perform large category appraisals to determine who likes the range of styles that exist in the market. These studies have a couple of major challenges. With 12 or more products to be evaluated by hundreds of consumers, the cost and logistics are huge. Generally it’s only the really big companies that can afford this approach. The quality of data can be compromised by asking consumers to taste too many products. Frequently the products are chosen on their market position, rather than their uniqueness. Too many similar products in the selection don’t tell us much about the consumer. What we are really attempting to do is find clusters of consumers who we can delight with well-designed products.
The Sensory Solution
To start this process we need to screen all of the possible products to assemble a set that are truly different (up to 50). A technique called Projective Mapping allows us to effectively reduce our sample selection to 12 products that cover the sensory space. This is accomplished by asking panelists to group samples together according to their perceived similarities and differences, revealing telling patterns that allows us to eliminate extremely similar products. Even 12 products is a lot to ask someone who is not specially trained to evaluate without suffering fatigue or boredom. For most product categories, 4 samples are all that should be evaluated by consumers. We have learned that when we bring consumers back over three separate occasions to do all 12 products, they start to act like “experts”, no longer like consumers. A powerful method of conducting a test where each consumer only sees a subset of the samples is called an incomplete block design. If we randomly balance our blocks, we can end up with 4 that are really similar or 4 that are really different. Compusense has devised a method for using the sensory differences to create incomplete blocks that have real contrasts. Then when we ask consumers to state a preference, there are clear differences that drive their response.
By using Projective Mapping, we can conduct a large consumer study efficiently and at a fraction of the cost for product and consumers. In a typical food product test with 12 products, each consumer has one visit, not three, and we can achieve effective segmentation with 300 consumers. Every product is seen 100 times and we know where each consumer fits in the sensory liking space.
A successful cluster analysis will identify the ideal target for product development that will delight that consumer segment. Instead of making a middle of the road product that nobody really dislikes, you can develop a tailored product that hits your consumers’ satisfaction button.
For more information on how you can use Projective Mapping to increase your product testing efficiency, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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