When I started at Marketing Sciences 5 years ago I knew little about the magic that is sensory research. I had a thorough background in FMCG research, helping clients develop winning concepts and products from an early stage, and I thought I had utilised every innovative approach when it came to NPD qual.

One of my inductions involved visiting our Sensory Lab.

I knew sensory was a key technique for Marketing Sciences’ product testing but I didn’t fully see the relevance for qual. How very wrong I was! Over the course of the day I realised sensory is a wonderfully scientific approach to research and how much of a shame it was that it eluded me for so much of my early career. With my innovative quallie ways I remember thinking how powerful it would be for me to link my qualitative expertise to the discipline of sensory research. And what a treat it was…

Way back in 2012 we were commissioned by a large dairy brand to conduct a piece of market research amongst tweens (8-12 year olds) to understand their product preferences, based on taste alone.

Our client had six different products, including their current, which they wanted to test amongst the tween market. They had one simple question – ‘which product do kids prefer overall?’ – and several more complicated sub-questions – ‘which product is preferred on texture’, ‘thickness’, ‘strength of flavour’, ‘mouthfeel’, ‘sweetness’ and ‘smoothness’?

The first task was to recruit a panel of tweens who would test the products. Conversations between our sensory experts, the client and me concluded the study should be conducted amongst those with high sensory acuity. A group of tweens from schools close to our sensory lab in Kent were screened.

The screening process entailed a series of tests to ascertain how easily tweens could discriminate between different tastes, flavours and aromas, as well as testing their descriptive, numeracy and articulacy skills. A total of 25 children were recruited and helped form our expert tween panel.

Once recruited the next step was for me to work closely with the sensory team and confirm a session structure. We agreed on a mixed self-completion and focus group discussion approach. I facilitated the sessions which involved reviewing one product at a time and scoring it on a number of attributes within the key sensory areas of appearance, aroma, taste and texture. After four sessions, I was clear from a qual point of view which product was least preferred and why, however, identifying the winner proved slightly more difficult. The remaining two products were close contenders on most attributes. The sensory expertise held the key to unlocking a winner. The outcome: happy tweens, satisfied clients and a winning product.

It’s from here our technique for enriching traditional product qual, with the innovation and insight of sensory, began. We have been developing and building our expertise ever since.

Product development workshops often need to cover a lot of information! Category usage and attitudes, branding, concept, product development and packaging.

Our product360 tool works on the principle that traditional qual just isn’t enough anymore and product development must cover all research needs. A product360 workshop is tailored to your needs where we dial up the category, brand, concept, product and pack aspects depending on where you are in your product development journey. And we do all of this in engaging 3-4 hour workshops for respondents, meaning better insight for you.

So what is our magic ingredient? Sensory of course!

Where development of products is key we add sensory to our workshops. Sessions are co-moderated with our expert qualitative and sensory teams and respondents are screened not only for creativity and articulacy (the foundation of solid qual) but also in sensory acuity (essential for product development). This is a powerful combination in qualitative product development.

As our sessions are workshops and not traditional focus groups we encourage marketing, R&D and key decision makers to attend. This allows for the best integration of our product experts, your teams and consumers.

If you’re looking to create a different or better product experience then contact us about our product360 tool and see the magic of sensory product development for yourself.

Sunita Bhabra is a Qualitative Research Director at Marketing Sciences Unlimited.

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Sunita Bhabra
01962 842211
Article date - 25/07/2017
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