Taste testing new products: can technology bring down the costs?

Is digital flavour profiling a recipe for success for retailers and restaurants?

16 January 2018
image credit: JK1991/iStock/Thinkstock

Could FlavorWiki be the Wikipedia for food flavours? It’s a new app in town that is apparently a fraction of the price of traditional tasting panels and relies on big data.

It quizzes consumers about the sensations created by different food products, compiling a flavour profile on a product and a database on taste perceptions.

Granted, consumer surveys are nothing new. But what if you could create detailed summaries of individual countries and then make helpful comparisons, such as the taste differences between people from Japan and the UK? What about finding out from the data that a product is a specific percentage too sweet for the average person and being able to change the formulation as a result?

This is the gap in the market FlavorWiki founder and CEO Daniel Protz is targeting.

Show me the money

You need to open your wallet for traditional tasting panels. They can cost an estimated £20,000, which is expensive even if a company can afford it. For others, it’s way out of reach. FlavorWiki costs a tenth of the price.

Plus, sensory panels are heavily skewed because they are trained to recognise tastes, according to Protz.

“They do so much tasting they become a machine… To get unbiased opinion which is also quantified, that is what we’re focused on developing,” he says.

“The data capture seems trivial, it’s nothing new, but it’s the way we process and filter and interpret the series of votes from the individual and group... [Data analytics] and how to deal with statistical inferences from the votes for food – no one had really done that before.”

With thousands of pieces of feedback converted into data, the company can map the scale and intensity of the product’s different flavours and, for example, suggest that a strawberry yoghurt is 20% too sweet for consumers. 

So where could this flavour saver find most favour?

From bread to restaurants

Dairy products, chocolates, sweets and even meal kits are ripe for new development using FlavorWiki, says Protz.

“We have done a lot of work with bread. The nice thing about bread is you can change a recipe fast and come out with a new product every week,” he says.

Restaurants, particularly those with franchises in other countries, could also appeal to different cultural tastes by using the app.

“Restaurant chains have locations all over the world, and if they want to develop a new sandwich or product for a particular market, they usually develop it in home market and then launch into overseas markets,” Protz says. “It’s usually too costly otherwise, but with FlavorWiki a product can be transported anywhere, as the data is digital.”

Fighting failures

It’s clear that Protz loves his data in a really nerdy way, but he is passionate about stopping food product failures. He says too many are being launched without enough info to even advertise to the right consumers.

“FlavorWiki… helps people understand the market better before developing a product, so when they launch the product they know which type of consumer will like that and who it will resonate with,” he says.

“A lot of money is spent on packaging and positioning the product, but then people taste it and decide whether they are going to buy it again on whether they like it, and those two things are quite disconnected. If they don’t build a product that people like the taste of then your likelihood of success is much less.”

Online senses

The technology is already being embraced in Europe. Switzerland’s two major retailers have signed up to FlavorWiki, and the South American market has also been using the tech, but Protz is hoping to target UK retailers.

And an area that is neglected when it comes to food? Online shopping. Protz says unlike browsing online for clothes, where for example a jumper can be described as soft and that description is commonly known, how food tastes is different depending on the individual.

“I can see us working with some retailers to develop some kind of feedback system to understand people’s preferences on food, not only for taste but textures and aromas,” he says.

“So retailers can understand consumers better and consumers will know how a product tastes, even if retailers are selling it online, by creating a better navigation experience with describing how it tastes.”

Plus, consumers can be enticed by the promise of more personalised suggestions, tailored to their desires. It’s all a tasty morsel to chew over…

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