Market testing | Program uses consumer testers to collect information on new products
EDMONTON — The hard work of developing a new food product may be for naught if it tastes lousy.
Having the products taste tested by consumer testers is one more step to helping products become successful, said Nicole Gaudette, a senior sensory scientist with Alberta Agriculture.
The department uses more than 2,000 consumer testers in its Sensory Evaluation Program to provide an indication of product acceptability.
“It is the ‘so what’ question,” said Gaudette.
Product developers may have missed something in development that the consumers perceive as unacceptable, she added.
“This is a good indication if the product will be a success in the market place, or not.”
Alex Chu has worked as a consumer tester for 10 years, tasting everything from chicken fingers to potato chips to deli meat.
“They want every person’s reaction and opinion,” said Chu, who comes to the Consumer Product Testing Centre in downtown Edmonton two to three times a month and generally spends 15 to 20 minutes.
“They don’t guide you or coach you,” said Chu.
“You give your honest evaluation.”
At the mock demonstration hosted for media, Chu tested two samples of juice for sweetness. In Chu’s estimation, one wasn’t nearly sweet enough and the other was perfect.
Gaudette said it’s that kind of feedback they’re looking for at the centre to guide product acceptability.
She said they work with the Food Processing and Development Centre in Leduc, Alta., to offer consumer and trained laboratory panel services.
The testing centre has 2,000 consumers in their database and uses 100 consumers per panel. The consumer testers must be healthy, have no allergies and are generally 18 to 65. They are paid $15 to $20.
Results of the consumer panel are analyzed and a report is given to the company for feedback.
A snack food company may come to the testing centre with new snack food flavours. It will test the new flavours against an existing flavour. One or two may be a flop, but the other could be successful.
“We do have some really good, successful stories,” Gaudette said.
Key to the evaluation is eliminating everything except the product. All the booths look identical, no talking is allowed and there are no visual clues to the product’s origin.
Testers may be asked to rate the product’s colour, flavour, texture, taste, after taste and overall likeability.
“We want to make sure the product is served in a way to eliminate bias. All cups look the same. The amount of juice is the same and all stamped with a three digit code. It doesn’t give you any visual cues of what you are about to consume,” said Gaudette.
“We want to make sure as much as possible, everything is controlled.”