How to measure and adapt to evolving taste preferences

25 Jul 2019

Trend Updates

For most consumers, taste is crucial when buying a product. But how can you assess whether the taste of your latest creation is going to appeal to your target audience? Apparently, that’s not so easy to predict: around 95 percent of new food & beverage products fail. That’s why Analytical Flavor Systems developed Gastrograph AI. Founder Jason Cohen, one of the keynote speakers at the Taste Tomorrow Event in Chicago, explains the value of this platform. “We can help make sure that a new product is something consumers are going to love.”

There could be any number of reasons why a product might fail (branding, distribution, supply chain, pricing). But the most critical thing is the taste of the product. Cohen: “For a product to be successful, you have to get the flavour, aroma and texture right. People have to like the taste of the product.”

Taste over health: flavour profiles drive people’s preferences The Taste Tomorrow survey showed nine major global trends. One of the key trends is that taste is a crucial factor when consumers buy bakery, patisserie or chocolate. It’s even more important than health. Cohen: “It’s funny, but when I ask anyone to choose between a full-flavour pastry or a low-fat or a low-sodium one, they always tell me they prefer the healthy option. But what I see at parties is people choosing the full-flavour option every time. Despite their healthy intentions, they are also looking for something that is going to taste delightful, preferably with new textural properties, new flavour properties or new flavour combinations.”

This inconsistency between what people think or say and what they do, leads us directly to the heart of the problem: taste is extremely difficult to measure. There are several reasons for this:

Taste preferences are constantly evolving First of all, taste preferences are constantly evolving. 

“As people gain new experiences, their preferences shift to different flavours. New flavour experiences and product experiences are constantly being tested. Take New York, for example. Fifteen years ago, Thai food was still pretty exotic there, bringing people new flavours like lemongrass, curries and spices. Now it’s everywhere, with all sorts of specialties like northern Thai, mountain Thai and spicy Thai restaurants.” Preferences changes with new generations as well. “When a new generation comes of age and starts making their own purchases and decisions, they will have been exposed to different flavours and will have developed different preferences. It’s a challenge for companies to become the preference of a new generation.”

Labelling specific tastes is difficult 

A second reason why it’s hard to measure taste: it’s very hard to label specific tastes. “Who was the first person ever to label vanilla as vanilla? People will use whatever terms they can to describe it. They might say this is deep, this is rich, these notes of spices remind me of sweet and creamy things. When we examine new flavours, aromas and textures, we can sometimes identify what they are. But they might also include new, exotic flavour experiences that have no reference.”

• Product development is stuck in the past 

And the third reason why it’s hard to measure taste and predict taste preferences, is that, according to Jason Cohen, product development is stuck in the past. “There’s no system or platform for updating products to meet changing consumer preferences. And also, most companies now use separate consumer and professional panels for testing. But humans are not sensors: they will always find a way to express their opinions about things. They are not perfectly repeatable. Different people have different sensitivities, vocabularies, different abilities to identify flavour.

Predict the (dis)liking of specific flavour profiles 

That’s why Cohen and his team developed Gastrograph AI: a specialised artificial intelligence platform for the Food & Beverage industry that understands what consumers taste. The platform models human sensory perception to predict consumer preference. It measures every individual's sensitivities and biases to different flavours, it controls for the perception of the individual caused by their genetics and experiences when analysing the flavour profile of a product. And it uses the data from these individuals to predict the liking or disliking of specific flavour signatures across the population. This way, Gastrograph AI makes predictions that optimise every step in a food or beverage product’s lifecycle - from conception to consumption.

Adapt rapidly to changing preferences 

One of the most important benefits of Gastrograph AI is speed. Trends and new preferences will evolve faster and faster, making it more important for companies to rapidly formulate new products that respond to changing preferences. The platform makes it possible to quickly adapt to evolving taste profiles. And that’s important, because taste will probably remain the leading determinant in whether someone is going to be a repeat consumer. “When you see a new product that claims to be organic, all natural, without additives, et cetera, you might buy it because of these claims. That is marketing. But you will only buy it again if you like the taste of the product. So we help companies understand the flavours, aromas and textures that are driving the marketing and we help them hit those targets.”

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