July 15th, 2011

Kraft taps into emotions to take sensory research up a gear

Food Navigator

Food manufacturers need to move beyond traditional sensory testing tools if they want to gain a better understanding of what really drives food preference, Kraft has argued.

Speaking at the IFT annual meeting and expo in New Orleans, Kraft Foods’ principal scientist, consumer scientific research, Melissa Knorr, said measuring consumers’ emotional responses to products could explain why two identical-looking products could achieve the same score in acceptability tests but perform wildly differently in the marketplace.

She added: “We were doing some testing on a new formula for an established product and the results of consumer acceptability/liking tests conducted at a central location suggested we had a parity product, so we were feeling good about it.

“But we wanted to get insights beyond liking, so we did some qualitative home tests and emotional profiling over four days and looked at the consumption experience, and we realized we might have a problem.”

How do you measure and describe emotions?

After ascribing emotional attributes to the products, key differences emerged despite the fact that both the new and the old product performed well in liking tests (8 and 8.1 on a 9-point scale), she said.

“Emotional profiling gave us critical direction. Traditional tools were not enough. We used emotional research to define unique points of difference and create a new hierarchy of attributes that go beyond ‘liking’. The failure of consumers to make an emotional connection [to the reformulated product] was driven by changes to sensory attributes we hadn’t measured before.

“In the test product, [positive] emotional attributes appeared early but were weak and faded fast, leading to a disappointing experience, so we reformulated again to get closer to the original sensory profile.”

Kraft has been using emotional profiling for three years as part of its sensory and consumer testing work, Knorr told FoodNavigator-USA.com. But it was still a relatively new area of sensory science and the jury was still out as to what constituted best practice and which tools to use, she said.

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