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product development: how can rapid sensory profiling help you?


PLAY's sensory specialist, Becky Tait, discusses how global FMCG brands are learning from niche start-ups and accelerating the product development process to keep up with fast-changing consumer tastes. How can rapid sensory profiling help?

Times are changing.

Unlike ever before, the FMCG industry is seeing small, innovative start-ups rise to success literally over-night, giving multinationals a run for their money. 

Entrepreneurial firms are cashing in on fast-changing consumer tastes and new, fashionable or niche categories.

Traditionally, big brands have been built on long-standing heritage, family associations and trust, but is this sufficient for consumers today?

Today’s consumers aren’t asking for possibilities… they expect all possibilities to be available - right now.


Learning from the new kids.

"Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow." (Physicist William Pollard)

Recently we have seen large companies such as Nestle and Unilever, purchasing niche rival companies in response to accelerated changes in consumer tastes. 

Amidst the rise in popularity of a ‘plant-based diet’, Nestle recently acquired Sweet Earth, a company which provides chilled and frozen vegetarian and vegan foods.

Unilever have been keeping a foot in the door with the fast-growing herbal, fruit and green tea market by snapping up niche companies such as T2 premium tea brand in 2013 and most recently, the fastest growing organic tea company. Pukka Herbs.

Inside FMCG recently stated

"Unilever is looking to bridge the gap between industry disruptors and established companies, outlining a bold prediction that start-ups will be working under the same roof as big corporates by 2025."

Keeping it fresh.

Start-ups are now being considered an indispensable channel for innovation and the instigation of pioneering business solutions.

The key to success is tapping into their fresh ideas and deep understanding of their target audience. 

After all, the majority of start-ups are born from the founder discovering a solution to a problem they once had themselves - they are the target audience!

These companies have lived and breathed the consumers point of view and bounced ideas around with other like-minded people, which has allowed them to answer fundamental gaps in consumers’ lives. 


Meeting real needs.

Start-ups are often first to market and able to win over new customers by addressing previously unmet consumer needs. 

They leverage on their appeal to Millennials through visual marketing and create shareable videos as a medium for brand storytelling. (Talking of Millennials, check out our blog on Millennial segmentation HERE).

Niche brands are also using consumer generated content to self-market and create consumer to consumer trust in new brands.

After all, if the product reviews say the product is good - why wouldn’t you believe it (big brand or not)? But importantly, they must be genuine, the consumer doesn’t have trust in brands who are paying for good reviews. 

This means brands must accept that they aren’t in complete control. It is vital that a product delivers in the way consumers believe it will, thus creating a strong connection, identity and positive association in the hearts and minds of consumers.

Shiny (or should I say matte?) packaging and a great market strategy might get your product into the trolley (if the consumer hasn’t seen those dubious reviews!), but at the end of the day, if it doesn’t meet consumer expectations, your exciting new product will only be part of some short-lived hype.


In their shoes

It is important to ensure that your product’s exterior appeal and associations are met, if not exceeded, by the sensory experience to ensure repeat purchase.

What is required today, is more than just getting to know your consumer as a token gesture; it is seeing, listening to and truly hearing your consumer. Getting as close to being ‘in their shoes’ as is possible.

This understanding of your consumer will give you the chance to be first to market and also ensure brand success, because the satisfied consumers of today will happily advocate, spread the message and market your brand for you.


Accelerating product development.

In today’s market, businesses need to know their consumers better than ever before, be able to make more with less, and have a quick product development turnaround to keep up with fast-changing consumer tastes. A pretty challenging proposition...

The once trustworthy product development life cycle - testing, validation, verification and roll out process - is not sufficient in today’s consumer climate.

Slow and steady used to win the race but now small, quick and nimble is able to tap into new trends with lighting speed.


Rapid methodologies.

So, how can rapid methodologies be used to drive the innovation and product development pipeline and uncover unique insights? 

Bounce and build with sensory qualitative research… 

Want to throw some concepts around the room and understand what consumers, love/hate?

Sensory qualitative research can be beneficial in early concepts to gain detailed information on consumer attitudes, perceptions, opinions, habits and behaviours.

This can allow you to deep dive into understanding: 

  • Is your product solving a consumer problem?
  • How will your product be viewed and used in consumers’ lives? What is its role?
  • How could you market your product to stand out on shelf?

PLAY conducts a range of sensory qualitative research in one of two ways, depending on the project: 

1. Online - allowing respondents to use the prototype products in a natural setting before discussing

2. In person - to gauge respondents’ initial reactions and interactions with the prototype

Over the last few years, sensory methodology has grown past the traditional timely and expensive trained panel.

Rapid Profiling

We know product development turnaround time is a key factor in launching products successfully today, but this should not come at the expense of exploring and validating the sensory attributes of a product - after all, people have to like it!

Don’t have the time or resources to manage a panel?

The sensory world has developed a range of rapid profiling methods, some of which can be used with everyday consumers (not just trained panellists). 

Flash profiling can be carried out with consumers in two sessions, and can be just as efficient as a trained panel in developing attribute and rating intensities. 


Over to you.

Got more questions? PLAY has an in-house Trained Panel Leader. Send us an email on to see how we can help make your product development pipeline more efficient.

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