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!

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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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

Creating a Giant Twix

I have a friend and he likes Twix.  Not just a little, but a lot. A whole lot.

So, when it came time for his 30th birthday present, a small team of food scientists in Albury and a designer in Geelong joined forces to  create the perfect gift.

A Giant Twix. Complete with biscuit centre, and caramel filling and crinkle edge wrapping. Check out the gallery below to see it take shape!

 Ingredients: 

  • 25 kg of Nestle Dark Chocolate

Caramel Channel (makes about 1.5 litres)

  • 5 tins of Sweetened Condensed Milk

  • 700g Butter

  • 12 Tablespoons of golden syrup

Butter Biscuit (makes 2 metres of biscuit)

  • 250g Butter

  • 1 Cup Caster Sugar

  • 2 Eggs

  • 4 cups Plain Flour

  • 2 Teaspoon Baking Powder

  • 2 Tablespoons Milk

Other items:

  • 1 x 1m drainage pipe for use as mould

  • 1 x 80cm PVC piping (10cm diameter) to create channel for caramel

  • Heaps of non-stick paper

  • Industrial Fridge (for setting the Chocolate mid-summer)

  • Large sheet of white paper

  • Can of gold spray paint

  • Twix logo for packaging

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