From September 2010 newsletter
Benchmarking is about comparing your product with those of your competitors.
We have a well established service using highly trained staff to do just that – providing a structured assessment from the viewpoint of an 'informed' consumer. In this, professional Home Economists evaluate products for sensory quality and eating enjoyment, as well as value for money. Maria Bryan, who runs this service, explains:
"We carry out over 1000 assessments a year, giving an objective appraisal of the appearance, flavour and texture of the product. These are done without knowing the origins of the products – so there is no bias towards the client's own products. Our reports include photographic images, so the client can see how the product appears when prepared."
Go to our podcasts page to listen to a podcast of Maria discussing benchmarking.
> Consumer input
Recently, we were approached by two major retailers who wished to obtain the opinions of their customers in a structured way, so we have developed a related service using 'naive' consumers – members of the public who regularly shop in particular supermarkets. Janetta Hylands, of our Consumer and Sensory Sciences Department, takes up the story:
"We are now doing over 2500 evaluations per year. We have a large database of consumers, involving a wide mix of people, both young and older, men and women. Sessions will usually involve assessments of about 6 different products, which are matched and presented in an order to approximately mimic a normal way in which they would be eaten. Consumers taste the products and answer a series of questions, chosen by the client, in our purpose–built sensory facilities. As well as questions about taste and appearance, we can also ask what the customer thinks about the associated packaging.
One important aspect of the evaluations is that we cook products exactly as stated on the packaging. This can sometimes reveal cooking instructions that fail to deliver a product that meets consumer expectations. Our clients are also sometimes present at the evaluations, so can see first–hand people's reactions to their product, and those of their competitors, providing valuable insights for future product development."