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Which Taste Validation Method is Right for Your Company?

It is highly recommended to have the taste of your product evaluated by some form of quantitative test method before it is launched on the market or before any significant recipe change. This will provide you with objective input on the gustatory quality of your product and help you assess whether it is ready to go, or if it needs a few adjustments before the launch.

Although the method you choose will depend on what kind of information you are looking for, in this article we’ll review the most common methods and audiences to help you make your decision.

The Three Most Common Testing Methods

1. Monadic Testing

Monadic testing involves showing participants one product in isolation and asking for their responses. This differs from comparative testing, which asks participants to comment on similarities and differences between two or more products. It is widely considered to be the best method to validate that a new product/recipe is ready for the market.

 No outside influence/ bias

Products evaluated separately as experienced in real life

 Clear indication whether product is liked or disliked (no dimension of preference)

Results can be normed (action standards: Launch-Rework-Stop) against previous monadic test results

❌ Often the most expensive option as products are tested one by one

Mainly used for: new product launch validation, product optimisation

Monadic testing is also an effective method for selecting the best version of two products that are very similar. This version of the test is called sequential monadic, and it also involves showing participants one product at a time and then evaluating it. However, this time they will also be shown a different version of the product afterwards and asked to evaluate it in the same way.

2. Comparative Testing

In comparative testing, participants are shown two or more products at the same time. First they try them all, then state which one they preferred afterwards. This differs from sequential monadic testing in that participants try all of the products first before giving a response. Comparative testing is particularly useful for positioning your product against key competitors or selecting the best prototype from two or three recipes.

 Good for competitive benchmarking

 Cost-efficient

❌ Interaction at work between the products. It does not give an indication whether a product is good on its own.

❌ Results cannot be normed against previous monadic testings (no action standards)

Mainly used for: competitive benchmarking, recipe selection

3. Triangle Testing

Triangle testing is used primarily for difference testing. Participants are asked to taste three products, two of which are the same and one of which is different. After tasting all three products, they are asked which one is the odd one out. Triangle testing is a great way to measure the impact of minor recipe modifications on an existing product.

 Ideal to evaluate the effect of minor recipe modifications

❌ Interaction at work between the products. It does not give an indication whether a product is good on its own.

❌ Results can not be normed against previous monadic testings (no action standards)

Mainly used for: Cost reduction, reformulation

Choosing the Right Panel

1. Internal Panel

The most cost-effective way to test your product is to ask your employees what they think about your product. Unless it is organised in a very professional way with a large sample, this method is not recommended. Although it is better than not testing your product at all, it has many flaws and is not very reliable.

Some tips for running a relevant internal test

  • Use as large a sample size as possible, with a minimum of 40 employees to gain reliable results.
  • Do not ask colleagues who have been involved with product development (there is a risk of inventor’s bias).
  • Think carefully about what you want to find out. If you are testing two prototypes of the same product, comparative testing is best. The results of this method can easily be interpreted (A is preferred over B).
  • However, if you want to understand if a product is good enough to be launched, monadic testing is the most suitable option. Absence of normative data from tests on other products make this method very unreliable when executed with an internal panel.
  • Design the questions carefully. Rather than simply asking if participants like the product or not, use a hedonic scale that allows you to quantify how much they like it, e.g. from 10 (“like extremely”) to 0 (“dislike extremely”). This type of scale is widely used for sensory evaluations.
  • Ask participants to rate the product on each of the sensory criteria (visual aspect, smell, taste, texture) as well as an overall impression.
  • Asking for comments and suggestions can also be insightful.

2. Consumer Panel

Consumer panels are organised by market research agencies who gather consumers and ask them to evaluate products. This is a great way to assess whether your product is likely to be popular in a specific country, within a specific target group. It is essential to select an agency with significant quantitative data and to make sure you choose the right consumer target group.

 Serious agencies have significant quantitative data from previous tests allowing them to determine credible action standards (Launch-Rework-Stop).

 Products are tested by consumers matching your target group.

 External validation can be used as a credible tool to convince your stakeholders (management, retailers, etc.) that the product will be a success.

❌ Consumers only know if they like a product or not. They have no ability to analyse why this is, or how to improve the product.

❌ Due to the absence of sensory training, there is a greater variability of results compared with an expert panel. This means the panel size needs to be larger to gain reliable results.

❌ Cultural bias could come into play. If the product is to be sold in different countries, it may require multiple consumer panels. This would significantly increase the cost of testing.

Mainly used for: Cost reduction, reformulation

3. Expert Panel

Expert panels are made up of individuals who are trained in sensory evaluation. They are skilled at providing an objective and detailed overview of the gustatory quality of your product. When selecting a research partner, make sure they have a proven track record with lots of quantitative normative data. Also check they have a solid tasting methodology and find out who the “experts” are. They should be fully trained and have experience in sensory evaluation (beware of the so-called pseudo-experts!).

 Experts give objective, analytical feedback that does not take their personal preferences into account. As well as telling you if your product is well-made and tasty, they are able to tell you why it tastes good.

 Experts can provide much more detail about your product, identifying its strengths and weaknesses, commenting on its aromatic bouquet, the balance of taste, its texture and aftertaste, amongst other things.

 External validation can be used as a credible tool to convince your stakeholders (management, retailers, etc.) that the product will be a success.

❌ Experts do not represent your specific target/geographic audience. They provide a universal evaluation of the product’s quality. Although this universal evaluation is usually very reliable, preferences can vary according to gender, age group or region.

Mainly used for: Cost reduction, reformulation

Recommended number of participants per type of panel
Internal : 40-100
Consumer : 100
Expert : 8-14

Checklist for your taste evaluation process

Let’s assume that by now you are convinced of the importance of having the taste of your product evaluated by some form of quantitative test method and that you are searching for the best way to set it up. Whether it’s an internal evaluation or an external one, whether it is consumer- or expert-based, here is a short checklist you should have in mind when deciding:

1. Is the test method the appropriate one?

The method choice (monadic, comparative or triangle) will depend if you are trying to choose between different recipes, to compare your product to a competitor, or if you need to compare against the taste expectations for a specific product category.

2. Is the panel adapted to your needs?

Internal, consumer, or expert panels all have their pros and cons, so the choice boils down to the degree of objectivity you are looking for and the robustness of the feedback you are seeking. External inputs will tend to avoid natural biases associated with internal panels. Ensure your sample size is sufficiently large and representative enough of your target consumer group to provide a robust feedback. Ask yourself whether the jury is competent enough to provide the necessary depth of feedback; do you need guidance for eventual recipe adjustment or simply a score?

3. Do the testing conditions meet the necessary standards?

Testing conditions have an impact on the taste evaluation results. For an objective evaluation, the testing should be a blind-taste (i.e., the tasters do not know the origin, nor the manufacturer, nor the brand name of the product); the jury members should not be able to influence each other.

To be able to compare results over time, the test conditions should be standardized: testing environment (lighting conditions, smells...), preparation, serving (chinaware and silverware), evaluation criteria, all need to remain the same to be able to compare different evaluation results of the same product.

Do you have questions about the Taste Institute?

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Olesia Serhiiko

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