What I learned about product research at a pub, in Fitzroy at 3am

Seeking small-scale clarity can often be more useful than generalising guessing from afar.

Where were you at 3AM on 19th of June? Most people were probably wisely tucked into bed, sound asleep.Not I, I was at the Birmingham Hotel in Fitzroy watching the Australian Socceroos play Netherlands in the World Cup. We all know the result, Australia lost 3-2, but watching the game I made a valuable discovery:

Joined by roughly one hundred other late-night soccer fans we crowded into the pub, hoping to see the Socceroos win, or at the very least put up a good fight against the Dutch.

In the function room the publican had set up the largest television they could find, giving everyone a glimpse of the game. The crowd filtered in, settled in for the game. We hadn’t realised it yet, but we were about to, this older, rear-projection TV was going to present two problems:

1. Poor picture quality — Sure, we could see the game, follow the ball and cheer/despair at the appropriate time; but for slow motion replays and appreciating the skilful ball movement — this TV was not able to cut it.

2. Narrow screen format — Our big screen was not properly tuned in before the start of the game, and as a result TV was chopping off a small portion of the picture at the top and the bottom. Yep, you guessed it, the missing picture is also exactly where the scoreboard and game clock appear.

Once the game was under way, we noticed that up the other end of the room was a smaller, newer, flat-screen TV. Perched up high this TV was also showing the game in crystal clear clarity. The size of this screen was not big enough to accommodate the entire room, however from a distance you could easily make out the players, the skilled footwork and easily read the scoreboard and clock.

When the game started, the majority of fans were gathered around the big screen, enjoying a beer and letting the game tick away. While everything was going smoothly the big screen with its ‘just good enough’ clarity was sufficient. However, when a goal was scored, a penalty was given or a poor decision was replayed, the big screen wasn’t appropriate and fans would turn toward the smaller screen.

As the game played out, the scores became closer.
As the scores became closer, viewers wanted more details:
“How long is left?”
“What’s the score?”
“Who was just substituted on/off?”

People started to switch from watching the big screen to the small, preferring the clarity and answers to their unasked questions.

Nearing half time, it was evident that this wasn’t going to deliver a predictable outcome.

Even if the Dutch won, Australia had been playing far better than expected. Viewers were keen to see and understand what was happening, how the Aussies had been so good. They no longer wanted to see the game on a large screen.

They wanted to know “What happened, and Why”? Something only the clarity of the small screen could deliver.

By the final whistle signalling the Australia’s defeat, the majority of the late night punters had their back to the big screen, watching the smaller screen preferring to be better informed for the game analysis later that morning around the water cooler.

So, what did I learn?

As most of you will know, I am an advocate for nimble, small-scale product research.

This night at the pub provided my “AHA” experience.

To gain the best insight, take the ‘small screen’ approach. The big screen is raises more questions than it answers. Small screen thinking uncovers clarity, understanding and insight.

As the punters and I found out, the devil (and opportunity) is discovered in the detail!

Still looking for a healthy sugar?

I’ve given up, and here is why you should too!

Noelle Campbell has called a spade a spade and cleared up the differences between healthy sugar and non healthy sugar.

It doesn’t matter what a celebrity might say, or the minerals and vitamins present. To my knowledge, one sugar cannot be any more or less healthy than another sugar.

There is no healthy sugar.

Only a healthy amount of sugar (hint: it’s as little as possible).

Parmigiano Reggiano defines Drivers of Liking for consumers

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Parmigiano Reggiano are not waiting for consumers to decided what drives liking.

Following my webinar for the AIFST looking at ways to Identify the Drivers of Liking in Food Products, I have kept my eyes peeled for producers who know what consumers expect of their product and aim to deliver it.

I didn't think of this approach, and it is a classic approach, used by people who make cheese, wine, salami and other 'artisan' products.

Parmigiano Reggiano are not waiting for consumers to decided what drives liking. They are not looking at data or consumer complaints. No, instead they are getting ahead of the pack and identifying for the consumers the characteristics of the product they should look for.

In the short film below, Parmigiano Reggiano walks us through the key visual and textural attributes to look for in a cheese. This approach allows Parmigiano Reggiano to tell the story their way.

Everything from how to best prepare the cheese (taking it out of the fridge 30 minutes before consuming) and the proper way to cut the cheese (using an almond shaped chunking tool) is included to ensure the consumer takes the right steps.

They talk about appearance attributes: colour and springiness, and textural attributes: hardness and in-mouth crumble.

What I like most is when they discuss the formation of Tyrosine Crystals.

To an unknowing, uneducated consumer, these crystals would seem to be indicative of a low quality product. Although with some simple guidance, a brief explanation and a reason fro being, consumers can now see, and consumer the cheese containing the crystals, safe in the knowledge that this is a sign of the correct aging process. This product isn't flawed, it is exactly as intended by the craftsmen and craftswomen who create it in Italy.

Drivers of Liking don't always have to be defined by consumers, you can always jump on the front foot and set the tone of the conversation.

Take a look, it's worth the 2 minutes and 47 seconds while you wait for your cup of tea to cool down.

Dr Herb Meiselman - Pragmatic Research for Product Development

Picking up on an idea from Jerry Seinfeld, when a big name from the world of Sensory and Consumer Research comes to Melbourne, I hope to meet with them, buy them a coffee and pick their brains about their specialist topic.

The NZ/OZ Sensory Symposium was recently held in Melbourne and I was lucky enough to catch up with Dr. Herb Meiselman, the guru of emotional research and our keynote speaker. I hope you enjoy it!

Can Trained Panels provide hedonic data better than consumers can scale sensory attributes?

Relying on trained sensory panels or internal employees to provide hedonic ratings has always been a big no-no. However, there have been some recent research findings that show the line between Consumer Research and Sensory Analysis blur, that is trained panels may be able to predict liking and consumers may be able to complete attribute scaling.

Seeking Herb's opinion of which approach he is more comfortable with, Herb said he felt more comfortable relying on consumers to provide attribute scaling, than trained panels to generate liking scores. Herb consistently reminded me: Never de-emphasis the value and importance of hedonic data generated by the target consumer. It can be useful at various stages throughout the product development cycle.

Are Rapid Sensory Profiling methods useful?

We focused on the Rapid Sensory profiling methods that are becoming more popular in consumer guided product development of late. While never one to shy away from recommending large Home Usage Tests or Central Location Tests, Herb sees the potential in methods that allow for co-creation with target consumers.

While some methodological precautions are required, using small consumer groups to guide development can result in cost savings and increased speed of reformulations. Until academic studies catch up and test these assumptions, Herb remains optimistically cautious "We don't know yet if they are valuable, they might be"

Any parting advice?

"Always aim to match a method to a need, not the other way around". Herb remains open to trying new methods if they can be proven by replication and practical outcomes. "Some people are rigid about methods. I want to see something that works, but also meets certain criteria"

Coffee Order?

Herb: English Breakfast Tea, Kevin: Mug of Cappuccino

Dr Herb is an expert in sensory & consumer research and product development evaluation. He has published more papers than Australia has had prime ministers, has worked with the US Defence forces to fuel soldiers and co-founded Targeting the Consumer short courses. He is internationally regarded for his work in the field of emotional research.

How can a Minimum Viable Product approach work in food innovation

My interpretation of a Minimum Viable Product(MVP). A MVP is a prototype that requires the least possible effort, the smallest financial expenditure and the smallest production run required to produce a stimulus that is adequate to test a specific assumption about a new market or new product.

A minimum viable product gets enough polish so that testers have a realistic experience. But not so much polish that it could be launched tomorrow.

For example, if you are launching a new Berry infused chocolate bar, you might test the assumption 'I have the perfect flavour intensity for the berry note'. To do so, you wouldn't spend much time on perfecting the shape or weight of the finished good, just the flavour intensity.

We all know the tech space is comfortable launching beta versions of new software, getting their MVP out there and testing the consumer appeal for these products. How well does the food industry do?

From my experience, we aren't great at this, but we are getting better. When I first started work at Uncle Tobys (many moons ago) we show our products for consumer feedback, worried that someone might steal our idea. Instead we'd have the R&D team perfect a product before going to full scale consumer testing with 200 consumers, essentially crossing our fingers that somehow we'd got lucky and fluked a product that consumers actually liked.

Now my approach has changed. Most big questions in an NPD process could benefit from some form of consumer input. Using the cycle of:

  1. Here is an idea,
  2. Lets quickly test it in a small group with a bench top sample.
  3. How'd it go, what did they think,
  4. Do we continue to perfect this product or pivot to another new opportunity.

Too few companies allow the R&D team to run the development of new products, but this is a topic for another day. Often R&D teams are eager to change if it is based on data, not on a whim. The look to improve their products and most keen to rise to the challenge of creating products that are successful on shelf. This kind of thinking would fir perfectly with a MVP approach, a great addition to their current processes.

Here is how it could flow:

Goal - Launch a new moulded Chocolate with a soft filling
Assumption 1 - Consumers want a dark chocolate. Prototype. Test. Learn.
Assumption 2 - Consumers want this snack to be healthy. Ask them.
Assumption 3 - Consumer want a fruit flavoured filling. Are you sure, ask them, present samples, is it too sweet?
Assumption 4 - Consumers want this to be a single bite serve. How big is too big? Or to small?
Assumption 5 - Consumers love sea shell shaped moulded chocolates. Why not other animals or plants or geometric shapes?

By breaking the overall goal into smaller assumptions, these can then be quickly tested. Unconventional testing methods are available for testing flavour, fit to concept and liking of specific product components - just ask you Consumer Insight team.

Get your developer on board early. As the testing uncovers new learnings, product developers can roll these learnings into subsequent formulations. These learnings start to form the building blocks of the product, defining the product as you go, solidifying product attributes that become non negotiable - because it is what the consumer wants. How do we know? We've asked them.

From my perspective, this iterative, MVP approach to product development makes a lot more sense that plucking an idea out of thin air, spending hours formulating in the lab, scaling up once the CEO or Sales Manager likes the flavour of it, barging in on production time to run a trial and then heading to Consumer Testing with your fingers crossed....

Is NPD for the food industry just like any other startup?

Often when someone mentions the term 'startup' I think of the tech space - a small web development team in a dimly lit room smashing out code as quickly as possible. Some organisation designing and beta testing their latest app with trendsetters.

How different is this to the new product development in the food industry? Are there opportunities to learn from the tech startups that can be reapplied to traditional R&D teams? Until now, I would have been skeptical and thought they are poles apart. We have middle management to impress, large machinery on long runs that can't be interrupted and technical challenges and stringent regulations that computer geeks wouldn't even be able to Google. However all that changed when I started listening to the audiobook, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

Eric starts by clearly defining what he sees as a startup:

A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty - Eric Ries

With such a broad definition of what a startup is,  I started to the think 'Yep, R&D teams for every food manufacturer I know do this'. And with this concession I opened up to the possibility of learning from how a tech start up operates. As I listened to the book, I heard great examples of processes and principles that would apply directly to what we do as developers and food techs.

Our challenges are similar (not enough money, not enough time, too much steering from external forces), but the methodology and process we can use hone a product specifically for a customer are (or could be) remarkably similar

  • - Test/Measure/Learn
  • - Principles of Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
  • - Validated Learning
  • - Applying the Toyota principles of LEAN manufacture to NPD setting

Each of these principles would fit nicely and bring tremendous speed and value New Product Development process. Over the next few posts I will explain these in further detail and give examples of how using them will benefit you.

January Morsels - some fun to help kick off the year!

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Welcome to 2014!
Headlines
Where does Nutella come from?
All the best for 2014!
Mini Morsels
Food Ink
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A cupcake that goes everywhere with you..., perfect!
New brew for you
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The Piccolo Latte A ristretto shot, topped with warm, silky milk served in a 100 ml glass.

A perfect sized coffee for warm, summer mornings.

Vanilla Slice review!
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I've exhausted my suburb for great vanilla slices to try. If you know anywhere that makes a great vanilla slice, tell me about it here!

I am eager to do more "research" in this field.

Welcome to 2014!
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Happy New Year!

I hope you had a safe and restful festive season. No doubt things are well and truly back in full swing. I thought I would share a few fun events to look forward to in 2014, and remind you that the UN declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming (read more).

Headlines

Click links for full story! How to taste Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (VIDEO) Learn to recognise the characteristics of a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese from an Official Taster!

Duke University: No two People Smell The Same Researches are beginning to understand why people can have opposite reactions to the same stimulus

Molly Schuyler Eats 72oz Steak In Less Than 3 Minutes (VIDEO) Yessir, that is a 2kg steak

Where does Nutella come from?
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I remember when I first realised that Nutella was a global brand - I was looking for a snack, in a Mongolian supermarket, before heading to Russia on the Trans Siberian railway. I only had a moment, and grabbed a small tub of Nutella - the only recognisable brand on the supermarket shelf. I have had a soft spot for this product ever since.

Recently the OECD has compiled a report mapping the global food chain that Nutella uses to create its products, I have selected some facts to share:

  • About 250,000 tonnes of Nutella is made each year
  • Nutella is sold in 75 countries.
  • There are 9 global production locations, even one in Sydney
  • Hazelnuts are sourced from Turkey,
  • Palm oil comes from Malaysia,
  • Cocoa from Nigeria, and
  • Sugar from Brazil

Maintaining a consistent sensory profile across the world must present a significant challenge. If anyone can connect me with someone at the Nutella factory, I'd like to ask them a couple of questions!

All the best for 2014!

Kev, thanks for taking the time to read this latest Morsel. As a final bit of fun, click the image of balloons at the top of the newsletter for a hilarious YouTube clip of a new sport!

Have a safe and prosperous 2014!

Kev

How to properly pick a perfect parmasen!

The lads at Parmigiano Reggiano have but together a short film (8:25) to explain the sensory characteristics they look for when testing a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

In this film, they put to one side the years of history behind the iconic cheese and focus on the sensations stimulated when evaluating this product. Igino Morini, Official Taster, pays respect to the individual nuances that can occur between each wheel of cheese - acceptable to an artisan product, but not often sort after in todays manufacturing.

"The sensorial analysis is the discipline that enables us to decode and understand the signals received by our senses at the moment of tasting"

Ignio Morini

The film talks through sight (colour and visual texture), aroma, flavour and mouthfeel. It also discusses the changes that can be expected depending on the production month or length of maturation. (A personal favourite part of this film is the number of seductive, dreamy gazes our host Ignio lovingly gives to each chunk of Parmesan.)

If you have a few minutes, have a look at this film, you might just learn one or two things to share next time someone asks about parmesan cheese!

Could food innovation benefit from a Lean Start Up approach?

Over the recent break, I went for a drive. And not a short drive either. I drove to Perth. It took 38 hours in the drivers seat to cover just over 3600km. Needless to say there was some time to kill.

I had prepared for this trip by downloading an audiobook called The Lean Start Up, by Eric Rimes. This book outlines the steps start-ups need to take to become more innovative,  stop wasting peoples time and be more successful.

leanstartup

I recently promised myself to write more, and one way to do this is to share learnings from thing I read, work that I am involved in or observations of the industry. I hope to provide some gems of information, food for thought and thought for food. I allow myself no more than 20 minutes to write each post and no more than 10 minutes to edit and rephrase before I post.

So, follow along as I see how appropriate a Lean Start Up approach is for todays food industry!

How Many Countries Does It Take To Produce A Single Jar Of Nutella?

My first realisation that Nutella was a global brand was in 2008, when I was looking for a snack to take on the next leg of the Trans Siberian Railway. I was in a supermarket in Mongolia, and Nutella was the only recognisable brand on the supermarket shelf.

Recently the OECD have compiled a report to look at mapping the global food chain. I have included some excerpts here to show how global Nutella really is - and I was nicely surprised.

nutella-map

Ferrero International manufactures about 250 000 tons of Nutella each year and this is sold in 75 countries.  With it's headquarters in Italy, there are nine production locations, five in Europe, two in South America, and one in Russia, North America, and Australia.

They don't muck around when it comes to supplying ingredients either, with the largest components being globally supplied:

  • - hazelnuts from Turkey,
  • - palm oil from Malaysia,
  • - cocoa from Nigeria,
  • - sugar mainly from Brazil (but also from Europe) and finally
  • - vanilla flavour from China (the manufacturer of vanillin is a French company).

My question is, how do they manage to achieve the same flavour profile from country to country? I am off to find out and will report back here when I know!

Full Report by the OECD on Mapping Global Food Chains: http://www.oecd.org/dac/aft/MappingGlobalValueChains_web_usb.pdf

Dare Cold Pressed - out now!

Lion Diary and Drinks have just launched their latest Iced Coffee - Dare Cold Pressed.Radar Insight was able to partner with Lion on this project to deliver a unique blend of cold pressed and premium Arabica coffees, mixed with fresh permeate-free milk and a dash of raw sugar.

dare raw

Using Rapid Profiling from Radar Insight, the brand team at Dare were able to ensure consumers were delivered an iced coffee beverage they desired. Dare worked through a number of variants and rapidly testing them to achieve the perfect the balance of coffee strength and sweetness.

And as a credit to the product Dare Cold Press have secured two of the biggest names in Australian coffee as ambassadors - Australian Barista Champion Matt Perger and St Ali cafe owner Salvatore Malatesta. Malatesta summarised the drink perfectly saying Dare Cold Pressed is a 'refreshing change for the second or third coffee of the day, particularly for the corporate sector and office workers'.

For more info: https://www.beanscenemag.com.au/articles/view/dare-cold-press-crossover

 

Listening to your consumer

megaphone-hearing-787265 What guides product development at your business? Continual consumer feedback loops, gut feel or the taste preference of senior management?

Many businesses believe they are consumer guided, but without specific effort and know-how, it's easy to skip the part where you ask for consumer input. Here are two examples of companies taking the initiative to remain consumer-centric:

Amazon.com: In all the important meetings at Amazon.com, founder Jeff Bezos insists upon having an empty chair present to represent the consumer or 'the most important person in the room'.

Zara: This fashion retailer uses its store managers to gather data each day from its shoppers by asking questions such as 'What colour should we do this in next?' and 'Is the skirt long enough?' This constant feedback loop has limited Zara's failed product introductions to 1% (the industry average sits around 10%).

Testing your new products with consumers is the best way to hear honest feedback and make meaningful alterations. It used to be a costly, labour intense undertaking but not anymore! Rapid Profiling, and other consumer sensory techniques are available from Radar Insight to enure you're launching products that consumers want.

(Examples sourced from HBR.org)

Food Tech: Fonterra launches 100% light proof bottle

New Zealand milk brand Anchor have launched a new, 'light proof' bottle, after identifying light spoilage to be a key factor in milk deterioration by "breaking down its fresh taste and natural goodness". Parent company Fonterra have found that traditional opaque milk bottles allow between 7% to 25% of light through, kick starting shelf life degradation and producing noticeable flavour differences within 2 days. To combat this, they developed a triple barrier bottle that is 100% light proof.

Radar Insight has the expertise required to help you assess flavour and/or textural changes that occur over a products shelf life. If you're not certain that your products last the distance, contact us and see how we can help.

Click for Fonterra's full media release

Food Technology: Presidential home brew

When he is not leading the free world or campaigning for re-election, the President of the United States of America likes to dust off his home brewing kit and (with extensive help from his kitchen staff) make two very special White House beers - White House Honey Porter and White House Honey Ale.

The presidential formulation originated from a local Washington brewmaster and is tweaked by the White House kitchen staff, even incorporating tips from other staffers at the White House who home brew for a hobby.

Most home brewers have their own secret ingredient that they swear by, however the White House happily shares their unique ingredient - honey. But you'll never get your hands on this particular type, the beehives where the honey is collected sit on the pristine White House South Lawn, guarded 24 hours per day by the United States Secret Service.

To see the 7 week presidential brewing process reduced to a 4 minute YouTube clip, follow the link here.

And for a copy of the the recipes, I have them posted here.

Using sensory profiles to define your product

Do you have a new ingredient ready to promote? Maybe you should consider incorporating a sensory profile to set your product apart from the rest. Including a sensory profile allows your customers to clearly see just how your products compare.

Benefits of utilising a sensory profile include:

  • capturing your audiences attention
  • showing superiority over a competitors product
  • demonstrating a specific product advantage, or
  • defining your benchmark for quality.

These specifications combine despcriptive sensory data with nutritional, micro or lab data to give your clients the complete picture.

If your newest product could benefit from a sensory specification to showcase your point of difference, learn more here - RadarSpecs - or have a chat to Radar Insight today!

Spike - perfect for shooting food commercials.

Ever wondered how food commercials capture the magical images of two tomatoes smashing into each other, the slow motion splash made by a hazelnut being dropped into a pool of chocolate or the speeding cork as it ejects from a bottle of champagne?

The answer is simple - precision, repitition, robotics and a high speed camera named Spike.

The Marmalade is a creative agency based in Hamburg, Germany who specialise in high end special effects for commercials. They have put this short video together to show how they shoot their commercials and when I stumble across it, I knew it would be worth sharing with anyone who appreciates food.

The Marmalde - Spike and High Speed Food Photography [VIDEO - 6 mins]

This team spend hours building rigs and robots that can consistently pour in, pour out, flick, splash or spin food products and props. All this work is done to capture on film a fraction of second of action on high speed camera.

Once the desired motion of the food has been achieved (flinging together two tomatoes), a highly maneuverable, high speed camera - 1000 frames per second - nicknamed Spike is programmed to record the exact moment of impact, splash or shatter or swiftly move down the glass as the beer is poured. This split second of action, slowed down ten times displays an artistic angle on everyday food and beverages that you wouldn't even realised occurs.

For a new perspective on food photography and cinematography and the advances being made by some of the leading companies in the world, have a look at the Marmalade's high speed photography video:

The Marmalde - Spike and High Speed Food Photography

And for more examples of their work be sure to check out their gallery.

 

Video and images used with the kind permission of:

THE MARMALADE | HAMBURG |  MAIL@THEMARMALADE.COM

 

Who, in the food industry, is your products toughest critic?

The Quality Manager? The Marketing Director? The CEO?

Perhaps the toughest critic of your products would be your loyal, repeat consumer. Over time they have become so attuned to your product that they can detect even the slightest change. They are the first to complain should they notice any variation to product or packaging. (Some claim even to be able to detect batch to batch variation).

We know that change is necessary to survive in this industry. We need to continue to reduce costs, increase nutritional value and alter processes to innovate, rotate and deliver FMCG products.

So how can you keep your critics happy but still complete product changes?

By testing, reformulating and retesting to ensure that silent changes really are silent changes.

There are a number of sensory evaluation methods available to statistically validate a silent change or determine where the differences are being detected. These tests are usually quick, cost effective and can give your sales team confidence that loyal consumers will remain satisfied.

By making it your objective not to disrupt your loyal consumers, everyone benefits.