Incorporating consumer responses to food and beverage product development

By Peter Burgess - 13 January 2014

In a developed market, the success or failure of a product will ultimately depend on what the purchaser or final consumer thinks of it, so it is essential to understand the consumer response in detail when embarking on a product innovation programme.

Consumer led product development needs to be considered from a number of different perspectives. First it is necessary to understand the characteristics of the intended consumer. For example: are some consumers more receptive to the proposed product than others? what are their needs? and are they strongly loyal to an existing brand, or are they inclined to trial new products?

Of course it is critical to understand consumers' responses to the sensory attributes of the proposed product itself, such as its appearance, flavour and texture, but additionally, the usage occasion or consumption context also needs to be taken into account. The alignment of the product's sensory attributes with its intended use, whether that be a product to be consumed while on–the–go or on a special occasion, will have a significant impact on consumers' acceptability of a product.

Insights from these perspectives are invaluable in guiding development activities such as positioning the product to best meet consumer expectations, and ensuring that the product formulation is designed to optimise liking, and that attributes such as packaging and portion size reflect the intended use occasion.

There a number of ways that consumer insights can be integrated in the early stages. Quantitative studies that test a concept can provide valuable early sales volume estimates based on identifying segments of the market that are potentially most responsive to the new product in terms of trial and repeat purchase. Measures such as a concept's perceived uniqueness, its relevance to the consumer in terms of satisfying a recognised need, and credibility in terms of the extent that consumers believe that the product will really deliver the proposed benefits, can provide strong indicators of a product's likely success in the market, and guide which product prototypes are worth developing and testing further.

Price sensitivity measurements can also identify optimal pricing information along with a price interval range.

While consumer insights gained from evaluating product prototypes are invaluable in guiding formulation development, increasingly these insights need to be combined with an understanding of the sensory expectations and experiences generated by product packaging and the consumption context.

We utilise a number of methods, such as specialist software to analyse qualitative research data for focus groups and depth interviews, and advanced Eye Tracking systems. We also use quantitative consumer segmentation tools, 'evoked context' approaches and behavioural change intervention studies, to understand in depth how a multi–sensory experience is conveyed, that is how the product, packaging and context work together to generate consumer emotions, memories and perceptions.

Understanding the linkages between product, packaging and context and how this affects consumer preferences, choices and consumption can lead to significant improvements in a brand's competitive positioning.

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