Sensory based product optimisation


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Consumer preferences can make or break a brand, and understanding how your product performs relative to branded and private label competitors is therefore vital.
At SPA Future Thinking, we use sensory profiling as part of our approach to product optimisation and competitor benchmarking. Quantified descriptive analysis (QDA) of your product is a valuable tool to identify how it differs from its competitors and how it can be improved to maximise consumer liking.

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Sensory based product optimisation

  1. 1. Sensory Based ProductOptimisation:Making sense of your brandsRichard MillsHead of FMCG
  2. 2. Making sense of your brandsConsumer preferences can make or break a brand, and understanding howyour product performs relative to branded and private label competitors istherefore vital.At SPA Future Thinking, we use sensory profilingas part of our approach to product optimisation Expert sensory tasters provideand competitor benchmarking. Quantifieddescriptive analysis (QDA) of your product is a highly detailed and objectivea valuable tool to identify how it differs from read on all aspects of a product’sits competitors and how it can be improved to physical characteristics.maximise consumer liking.What is Sensory Preference Mapping? Our typical approach combines sensory profilingSensory Preference Mapping is a powerful with central location test (CLT) consumer testingtechnique which combines two different sources aimed at:of data. 1. Understanding the competitor context,Consumers are good at telling us what they like providing a full 360 degree descriptiveor dislike, but often can’t tell us why in any detail. mapping of your product and its competitorsSo, in parallel to consumer data, we use expert – generating a map of the sensory spacesensory tasters to provide a highly detailed covered by the category.and objective read on all aspects of a product’s 2. Consumer testing to screen your productphysical characteristics, ranging across its against the entire competitive set, andappearance, smell, taste, texture and aftertaste. map out preferences within that, identifyingBy combining these two sources of data, we segments of preference.are able to generate a deeper understandingof the drivers of preference across the market– what exactly is it about your product (or yourcompetitor’s) that makes consumers prefer oneover the other? We can then go further and tellyou what you need to do to maintain marketleadership in terms of product superiority anddrive the success of your brand. Sensory Based Product Optimisation 2
  3. 3. Our approach...Sensory Using Principal Component Analysis we map all the sensory attributes, to provide a detailedSensory panellists are selected and screened picture of the degree of difference between eachon the basis of their sensory acuity and ability to product and the nature of those differences, at adescribe and discriminate on: level of detail far greater than we could expect• Appearance • Texture ordinary consumers to provide.• Aroma • Aftertaste Consumer• Flavour In tandem to our sensory testing, we conduct a comprehensive blind evaluation of the productAll our recruited panellists complete a training set with consumers, typically in central locations,period, on general sensory analysis principles using hedonic and diagnostic measures.and method (e.g. five senses, perception, tastingprotocols, use of software and equipment), These include assessment of the product overall,before joining our profiling panel. and on a range of attributes including overall liking, purchase intent, spontaneous likes and dislikes. Plus ratings on appearance, colour, aroma, flavour, consistency, after taste and any product specific items relevant to the product category (e.g. number of chocolate chips). The outputs from the consumer evaluation include: Individual Ratings – detailing individual ratings for your product versus competitors – including indications of significant differences Penalty and Peak Profile – highlighting opportunities for each product and prioritisation for product improvement Product Summaries – providing comprehensiveOur approach builds a Quantitative Descriptive easy to read summaries indicating key scores,Analysis of the product set across all sensory reasons for preference and recommendationsmodalities. Each product is profiled in duplicate, for product improvements and developments.and the panel is checked for internal consistency,both across panellists and within each panellist. Sensory Based Product Optimisation 3
  4. 4. Linking consumer to sensoryThe last stage of Preference Mapping is to Our model will:model the liking scores given by the consumerswith the sensory descriptors generated by the • Give clear directions for improvement for theQDA profiling. To be considered in the model, a products which need to be improveddescriptor has: • Define the optimum product described via1. To be discriminating. Showing significant the ideal sensory profile differences within the product set • Allow us to estimate the overall opinion for2. To be as correlated as possible to the overall the optimum product and for the products liking not placed in the consumer test (and which are included within the sensory space of3. To have a range as large as possible (the reference) range is the difference in the highest and lowest score given within the product set) Sensory Based Product Optimisation 4
  5. 5. Consumer research considerationsBlind tasting As we can expect the differences to be relatively subtle, this approach will give the most sensitiveTo get a pure read on the product characteristics, read on the products. It will also make the testit is essential that the brand has no influence on easier to manage and control, particularly inthe assessment of the properties of the products areas such as product storage and ensuringthemselves. optimal and consistent trial temperature.The most robust assessment of each productwill be when it is unbranded. With branding inplace, brand can become the main focus ofthe assessment (i.e. particular associationsconveyed by brand and advertising can distortactual perceptions).All products tested by panellists and consumersare therefore tested blind to allow the productattributes to be assessed without any referenceto expectation derived from branding. In tandem to our sensory testing, we conduct a comprehensive Complete design blind evaluation of the product The most powerful modelling can be achieved set with consumers, typically in when consumers have evaluated all the selected central locations, using hedonic products in the set, which then allows us to identify sub-groups of respondents within the and diagnostic measures. sample who share similar patterns of liking or disliking across the product set. Optimisation guidance can then be targeted more precisely.Central location testingControlled environments ensure all products are Consumer pre-recruitmentprepared and served to a standardised protocol,in exactly the same way, eliminating any Depending upon the number of products beingextraneous differences. This also ensures that tested, consumers may need to attend the CLTsthe products will be served to exactly the same for more than one session, so are normally pre-protocol in the consumer and sensory evaluation recruited. We recommend that each person testsstages of the research. no more than 5-6 products in a single session. Sensory Based Product Optimisation 5
  6. 6. Benefits of our approachOur approach offers a number of additional key To learn more about how this technique can workbenefits including: for your brand, please contact Richard Mills, Head of FMCG at SPA Future Thinking.Flexibility richard.mills@spafuturethinking.comTimings of the research can be spread. Forexample we can test all products in a programme +44 (0) 1865 336 400at the same time or at different periods in theyear e.g. a different flavour each month.SustainabilityOnce the model is developed, it is possible topredict liking scores for new prototypes) usingonly their sensory profiles, avoiding the need forfurther consumer testing. For example, if yougo on to develop an improved product using theoptimised guidance from the model, we can thenre-profile it, use that sensory data as an input tothe model, and predict how well consumers will Richard heads up the FMCG business at SPAlike it. Future Thinking, and has 20 years’ experienceComparability across tests focussing on NPD research.We are able to carry out tests across the year for Richard’s expertise in NPD has been gainednew variants, revised formulations and therefore both agency and client side at Mars, and hebuild up a database for products and their has extensive international experience havingcompetitors. worked in over 30 countries, in all 5 continents.Additional insightWe have the ability to ask additional questions atend of process from evaluating the importanceof claims, the potential of new flavours throughto the quick evaluation of a new idea. Sensory Based Product Optimisation 6
  7. 7. About the companySPA Future Thinking is is dedicated to providing innovation, intelligence and inspiration through researchthat identifies new opportunities, evaluates your markets and drives business growth.With combined industry experience of over 40 years and offices in the UK and Europe, SPA FutureThinking provide genuine research expertise and understanding across a wide range of industry sectors.Our staff have a mix of agency and client side experience, providing you with a better understanding ofyour business needs; we have the confidence to deliver not just findings but business recommendationsthat deliver success.Our knowledge of fmcg, retail and shopper research extends from new product development, packdesign and testing, and volumetric forecasting for product launches and category extensions, tounderstanding all aspects of the shopper journey.For more information about the company please contact John Whittaker on +44 (0) 1865 336 400 or Sensory Based Product Optimisation 7