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!

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....

Measuring nothing (with great accuracy)

This article was originally written by Seth Godin and appeared in his daily blog last week. I believe it is super relevant because we all to often measure what is simple, and make tenuos links back to our assumption. Seth suggests we should measure what we really want to know, and apply less conventional methods of interpretting the results.
Kev

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The weight of a television set has nothing at all to do with the clarity of its picture. Even if you measure to a tenth of a gram, this precise data is useless.

Some people measure stereo equipment using fancy charts and graphs, even though the charts and graphs say little or nothing about how it actually sounds.

A person's Klout score or the number of Twitter followers she has probably doesn't have a lot to do with how much influence she actually has, even if you measure it quite carefully.

You can't tell if a book is any good by the number of words it contains, even though it's quite easy and direct to measure this.

We keep coming up with new things to measure (like processor speed, heat output, column inches) but it's pretty rare that those measurements are actually a proxy for the impact or quality we care about. It takes a lot of guts to stop measuring things that are measurable, and even more guts to create things that don't measure well by conventional means.

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.

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

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

Violet Crumble vs Crunchie - what's your flavour?

Chocolate covered honeycomb has long been an Australian favourite, but which do you prefer, Cadbury’s Crunchie or Nestle’s Violet Crumble? When spare time presented itself at the office, I put the taste buds to work to decide which I prefer.

Packaging

Both products come in vibrant foil packaging, and neither have a transparent window, instead keeping their contents secret from the world. As you'd expect, the vibrant designs on both packs is similar, although communicated using different colours. You may assume the coveted royal purple product belonged to Cadbury’s, but you'd be wrong. Nestle has continued its long association between Violet Crumble and purple while Cadbury’s Crunchie is is slathered in gold.

Appearance

Strip off the wrapper and the differences become more apparent.  Side by side you notice different coloured chocolate. The Crunchie is enrobed in Cadbury’s iconic Dairy Milk while Violet Crumble has opted for a darker variety. The cross section photo (below) reveals the degree of difference in chocolate coverage thickness; Crunchie (62% chocolate) and Violet Crumble (59% chocolate). The density of the honeycomb differs with fewer air bubbles and a more pale golden coloured Violet Crumble.  But we know that no one buys a chocolate bar to just look at..... lets eat!

Texture

Biting into the Crunchie is best described as biting through a chocolate layer, and then chomping through air. There is no structure or resistance given by the honeycomb. It reminds me of biting through a hollow Easter egg. The Violet Crumble still shatters, but the honeycomb provides greater resistance on first bite. Chewing the honeycomb centre of the Violet Crumble conjures up images of eating chalk, but tasty sweet chalk..

Once in your mouth, they both become a mass of chewy chocolatey goo, but the Crunchie’s Rate of Disappearance is far quicker than that of the Violet Crumble.

Unwrapped

Unwrapped

Chocolate

I tip my hat to Crunchie for using the Cadbury dairy milk chocolate. The combination of superior coverage and a familiar chocolate results in a better overall chocolate experience. Violet Crumble is less concerned with the chocolate flavour, allowing their honeycomb flavour profile to shine. As a chocolate bar, the lack of chocolate does play against them in when compared to the Crunchie.

Honey Comb

This is where the two products differ most. The Violet Crumble has a sweet taste and a simple clean honeycomb flavour. The Crunchie is super sweet. The honeycomb flavour wasn’t “clean” reminding me of overcooked toffee - the type that leaves a bitter, burnt sugar flavour in your mouth. Both bars made me thirsty, so I guess this comparison is best undertake with a glass of water close at hand.

Conclusion

Honestly, I couldn’t split these bars by appearance, was swayed towards the Cadbury Crunchie for its superior chocolate coverage but couldn’t consume the whole bar because its excessive sweetness. The strong the caramelised flavours were also a turn off. Even with less chocolate, the clean flavours of Nestle’s Violet Crumble secures my preference.

Final Thoughts...

I have a friend who swears the best way to eat a Crunchie is by pressing your tongue up against the honeycomb and letting it dissolve away. You are left with a soggy, half melted chocolate tube but it is delicious. Try it, but be warned, it usually ends up a little messy.

What is your favourite? How do you eat your honeycomb? Let me know your thoughts!