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FMCG research: achieving fast-track sensory analysis with Product Clinics

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Think different. Make it happen. PLAY. That’s how we do things around here. In the spirit of this message, we thought we’d introduce you to a product research approach that you may not have leveraged or heard about before: Product Clinics.

This approach could be the missing piece in your streamlined product development and testing puzzle – the gap that’s currently causing you expensive, time-consuming headaches or leaving giant question marks lingering in the air, like: 

  • What's the best way to move forward?
  • What exactly are my consumers looking for?
  • Are we delivering to our intended product promise?

Let us explain…

What is a Product Clinic?

 
In a nutshell, Product Clinics are a fast-track sensory analysis and decision-making tool for developing food products.

They are qualitative, not quantitative. This means that they do not provide a final answer. Instead, this methodology is used earlier on in the process.

It is more about shortlisting a range of options, gaining an early understanding of what drives appeal in the concept or category, and honing in on exactly how to optimise and create a successful product BEFORE you get stuck into large-scale, quant product testing.

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How do they work?

Generally, at the stage of the Product Clinic, you would have many potential options that you would like to evaluate and narrow down to a more manageable bunch.

In a focus group-like session, we give consumers a wide range of sensory stimuli and ask them to review likes and dislikes at a product element level (visual cues, aroma, flavour, ingredients, etc).

We start with the concept or idea - the product promise - and analyse to what extent each element delivers on it.

For example, you might want to test whether a set of cereal bars scream “natural energy” to consumers. The clinics could uncover that the little chunks in one variant come across as “fake” or the colour in another makes it look devoid of nutrients. Maybe you're onto a winner with the goji berry tang though, in which case you'll decide to take that element forward into revisions.

You are then able to optimise, so the product reflects the promise but is also appealing to consumers’ palates - a delicate balance to achieve.

The business is also able to do a cost of goods assessment post-hoc to see if you can afford to make the product with those particular requirements.

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Use cases

Turns out, this handy little solution could be your new best mate in a fair few situations:

  • When you have a wide range of prototypes and need some clarity around which direction to take. Further down the line, this can be validated or further optimised through a CLT or in-home product test to see whether it passes the “life test”

  • Evaluating products made by different suppliers - decipher who does it best in consumers’ eyes

  • Exploring relatively uncharted territory (such as the use of probiotics in food products) to see how consumers respond

  • Building a case for global teams using an early proof point which justifies whether or not the product will work for the tastes of the local market

  • Iterative sessions – speaking to the same group of consumers at the initial concept stage through to revised shortlist refinement

  • Getting a sense of what could drive the category moving forward, in terms of sensory appeal

  • Ground-up development
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Hit me with the benefits...


  • Refine numerous options down to a couple of strong choices, saving a LOT of time and hassle

  • Inform R&D teams around direction for refinement or larger-scale prototype development

  • Find out the boundaries for taste vs. cost and other practicalities

  • Fast – these clinics can get you some needle-moving answers within a couple of weeks

  • Leverage the qualitative approach to gain more clarity around what appeals to consumers, what their expectations are, and what their language is for the category

  • More cost-effective and fruitful than doing quant research on products with complex textures, ingredients, etc

  • Get the technical team involved in “consumer land” as they view from the other side of the glass to see how consumers talk about the category

  • It's shareable! You can pull out quotes and share video recordings of consumers with stakeholders

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Winning formula

It’s all about staying connected to your consumer throughout the entire product development process so that when you launch, you’re onto a winner. 

If this kind of testing isn’t undertaken in the earlier stages of product development, then you might find that you don’t end up getting a win from the quant further down the line. 

Computer says no! Or rather, consumer says no...

Here’s to you getting the win!

 

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Over to you 

Hungry for more answers on how to leverage streamlined and cost-effective product testing?

Download our free guide: 'Product testing: is an in-home usage test the answer?'... because let’s face it; product testing in Australia can be hugely expensive, and an IHUT could be just the ticket!

Download the IHUT Guide


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The risks of poor packaging design are huge, and customer alienation can lead to severe losses in sales.

 

Do you understand the mind of your shopper, and what leads them to purchase? Packaging research is the essential first step in the pack design (or redesign) process.

 

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