A staggering number of new products are developed every year that never make it past first production and if they do, it’s only to die shortly thereafter. Highly successful food and beverage manufacturers are among the unlucky in this area and often have products that roll out only to lose momentum before the product ever really gets rolling. So this would suggest that it is not about capability to produce popular products…but seemingly rather the ability to figure out a concept that will be well received and a version that actually tastes good.
Early in my sensory career, I began hearing the term, “Fuzzy Front End” in reference to projects and specifically the induction of a new product or concept, which was generally always “theoretical” in the onset of a project or study. The “fuzzy” referred to all the upfront “unknowns” about a concept or product. Something new needed to be researched and studied to understand things about the product, like is the concept acceptable, is the actual product stable, does shelf life affect quality, does it taste good . . . and all of this was learned over time with a lot of finger crossing.
Even harder than watching products fail was watching the “let’s just take our best shot” approach to formulation and quality control that we saw from the food manufacturers. In their defense, they simply didn’t know there was a better way. But with increased focus and use of sensory evaluation really on the upswing in the US in the late 70s and early 80s, companies began to leverage sensory evaluation to take the “guess work” out of formulation and consumer acceptance and provide a much quicker and clearer path for industry professionals.
Product alignment (or matching, but I prefer the term alignment because matching is next to impossible and not a feasible goal in food production) is one area that has exploded in the last decade. We see very few actual new products or product concepts each year but we do see a lot of product alignment, especially in the private label arena. Whether you are aligning products attribute for attribute or trying to align your product’s acceptability rating with another, product alignment has become a very popular activity in the food and beverage world. Whether you are conceptualizing, formulating or monitoring, sensory can and should play a role every step of the way. It can save you time and “guess work,” keeping you from heading down the wrong developmental road or heading down the right road but in the wrong direction… and it happens all the time!
When reformulating, developing or monitoring quality, do you ever feel like you are feeling your way through a dark cave and just hoping you don’t fall off of a cliff that you can not see? Yes, sensory takes time and money but so does “guessing” your way through the black caves of product development or quality control. The time and money lost by multiple reformulations, only to hope you are on the right track can produce losses that are unrecoverable and sometimes catastrophic to your business. But with a well-designed study and the right sensory tests, you can take the “fuzzy” not only out of the front end but throughout the study or project, helping you to see a more “clear” path to your end goal. Adding sensory to your projects and studies is like strapping on a miner’s hat with a bright light attached, illuminating the cave so you can see all of the crevices and cliffs. Sensory testing is like the light, it will not eliminate the crevices and cliffs but it will give you the foresight to see the terrain and show you the best way to navigate it. Learn more about our sensory testing services.