Posts tagged “taste test”

Research Report Re-released – Smarties taste test

An article in the Daily Mail reports that Nestle is removing the artificial food coloring from Smarties.

Although Nestle says it is responding to calls from consumers for more natural ingredients, it has faced heavy lobbying from campaigners worried about the effects of the chemicals on children’s health.

The colours being axed include Brilliant Blue (E133); Quinoline Yellow (E104); Sunset Yellow (E110); Ponceau 4R (E124); and Carmoisine (E122).

A recent study by experts at Liverpool University identified a possible harmful cocktail effect on the nervous system of artificial colours and chemicals.

Two of the colours examined were Brilliant Blue and Quinoline Yellow, which like many others was originally derived from coal tar.

This seems like a good occasion, therefore, to re-release some of my earliest consumer research, conducted in partnership with Mark Jaycock. In “Are You A Smartie?” we asked a range of demographics (age, gender, smoking status) to identify the color Smarties candy based on taste alone. We theorized that the food coloring itself may have had a taste that people were learning and indeed identifying with the supposed flavor of the color itself. I wonder how the results would be different now, with the artificial coloring removed? Will the natural colorings taste as strongly?

The report is available as a PDF download here. It was tempting, when revisiting this work (which is about 25 years old) to correct typos, upgrade the information design and readability, but as an artifact of some of my earliest consumer research, I felt it was better to leave it mostly intact.


Pete’s Tofu2Go desserts

Pete’s Tofu2Go is a series of products that attempts to create new, appealing, and useful applications for tofu.

This includes Snackable in four flavors, with dipping sauces
* Sesame Ginger with Jazzed Ginger Soy Sauce
* Thai Tango with Mango Wasabi Sauce
* Lemon Pepper with Mango Chipotle Sauce (U.S. only)
* Santa Fe Sizzle with Pineapple Mango Fusion Sauce (U.S. only)

as well as Marinated Cubes in Tequila Lime and Sesame Sizzle (for cooking or snacking), and dessert.

The Package
We tried two flavors of dessert tofu, Very Berry, and Caramel. Looks pretty good on the package; bright colors, familiar flavors (i.e., yogurt, or pudding).

Look at the tiny little spoon they come with! Kinda cute, if somewhat less than optimally functional.

Here’s everything. Each package contains two substantial containers. and two baby spoons.

The packages break apart – with some effort – for individual consumption, and I guess packing in lunches, etc. We tried it at home.

In order to open it, one must grasp the clear thin plastic layer at one corner and pull back. It’s fairly well attached, and so one must steady the hand against a surface in order to pull. Of course, at the beginning of the opening process, the only thing to steady against is the tofu itself. This caused the strawberry version to bulge rather sickly through the opening, a large layer heaving with eagerness to depart.

When I finally got the plastic off, the excess liquid in the container gathered on top of the tofu, presenting a wet, glistening, slightly pink and almost alive surface. It wasn’t so appetizing.

But things went from bad to really bad when I opened the caramel. Some difference in the texture of the dessert lead to a completely different bulging behavior. With the caramel, the pressure of my hand on the plastic caused the tofu to flood sickeningly and rapidly out the opening.

It was the first time I wished I was a videoblogger, because the video would be much better than these pictures. The quick and dramatic depature of the tofu slurry looked for all the world like an exploding zit. Not good.

I really was hoping for the best. But it was inedible. The water in each spoonful created multiple textures, a weakly-flavored water with a gelatinous pile of glop in the middle. With no yogurt or pudding taste, but something like medicine, a Robitussin or other medication that makes ya shiver.

And even though the package says “serving suggestion” – I really did think the caramel was going to have some drizzled caramel sauce or a layer of topping in the container somewhere. I figured the phrase referred to the nice berries on the side but not the lack of a topping. I felt grossed out, but also scammed.

This is a product to avoid.

Note: This is the fourth in an occasional series of reviews of new grocery (and other) products that strike me as interesting or unusual. See also Tiger Power, Grapple, and Bumblebee Entre Style Tuna.

From fleur de sel to kosher, which salt is best?

In this Slate article by Dan Crane the fancy-delancy salts and their poor-as-peter siblings are put through their taste-test paces.

Although sodium chloride is the primary component of all salt, the texture and shape of the crystals must also be considered, as those qualities fundamentally impact salt’s taste and how it interacts with food. Does it provide satisfying crunch, dissolve nicely when it should? How well does it season food? How well does it stand alone?

Three tests were performed on nine salts (from each of the four salt varieties) by eight tasters in New York City: the finger dip (self-explanatory), salt atop a slice of fresh cucumber, and salt used in pasta sauce made with unsalted canned tomatoes. (I made Marcella Hazan’s classic tomato sauce.)

While the East Coast results were interesting, I felt they were inconclusive. Thus, I embarked on Round 2, which took place in Los Angeles at one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, the Edendale Grill in Silverlake. The restaurant kindly agreed to cook French fries and steaks for a group of eight testers, using each of the same nine salts.

In both rounds, testers were asked to blindly rate the salt from 1 to 10 and comment on its taste. The scores from all five rounds were averaged together for one final ‘taste’ score. Salts were also assigned an aesthetic rating based on the packaging and the look of the salt itself, since appearance is often as important as taste.

Bumblebee Entree-Style Tuna

This is the third in an occasional series of reviews of new grocery (and other) products that strike me as interesting or unusual. See also Tiger Power and Grapple.

Bumblebee Entree-Style Tuna is one of the latest Home Meal Replacement products arriving in the grocery store. Home Meal Replacement, a lovely industry term usually abbreviated as HMR (which always sounds a little too close to HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) for me).

The idea is to help busy families get a traditional-type meal on the table quickly, through some innovations in packaging and distribution and food design. And maybe getting people to think a bit differently about what actually is necessary to constitute a meal.

The Package
The product comes in three flavors – we tried two of them: Lemon and Cracked Pepper, and Ginger and Soy. The third was Mesquite Grilled (not so appealing for tuna). Although check out the nutritional info – maybe we made the wrong choice because that Ginger & Soy has triple the sodium of the others – 43% of your RDA. Didn’t they use to salt fish to preserve it?


The packages are the latest foil envelope gizmo, the printing technology has come along since the early days of boil-and-bag. Bumblebee of course is a company known for tinned tuna (I’d call it canned tuna, but that doesn’t ring as well, does it?), but small type indicates this is gourmet wild tuna, which presumably means that it was caught, not farmed. I didn’t know that tuna was farmed, anyway, and I also assume that you can label anything as gourmet without challenge.

The back of the pouch shows the three easy steps (1 – Tear, 2 – Heat, 3 – Enjoy), with some helpful and encouraging requests such as “Notice the firm texture and seasoning!” and pointers to the “Convenient Preparation Options – The results are all Fabulous…” (and yeah, they did capitalize just Fabulous in that sentence – does that mean we need to have a Fabulous voice in our head when we read it? Fabulous!)

Couldn’t be easier. Tear it open:
and put it on a plate (or baking dish, or skillet) – it can be heated in the oven or microwave, or on the stove-top. We opted for the toaster oven.




Whoops. A bit more goo comes flowing out of the pouch than one would expect. The picture on the back of the envelope is goo-free, and shows a much larger, thicker, and pinker looking steak than we got. And look how different the two flavors are. The Ginger and Soy (on the right) does have little sticks of ginger on top. I’m not sure what that is on the top of the other one. Let’s just say that’s spices, okay?

The instructions said a preheated-350-oven for 10 minutes. We used a toaster oven, and it wasn’t pre-heated, so I went for 11 minutes.

and served…
It wasn’t good. It wasn’t flaky, it was dry. It wasn’t enough food – look at those portions – that’s two halves on one plate (that way everyone got to try each flavor!). The rice was essential to mix in to each bit to try and stave off some of the dry tuna taste/texture.

Perhaps my 11-minute improvisation was disastrous to the end-product; I’d not expect that, but who knows how carefully they time these things in development.

Not such a good execution. Certainly, a compelling idea. Reasonably healthy and easy to prepare, just steps to a “real meal” – that definitely appeals to me. But if you are going to compromise at meal-time (and certainly that is almost inevitable) don’t set the expectations so high? At least in a new product category, if you want to survive, don’t set the expectations so high. This was not like eating fresh tuna, or even freshly prepared tuna. It was just over-flavored dry…something.

Apple tasting notes

We decided to try a bunch of apples and make notes about what we found. There are easily 10 varieties of apples for sale even at the tiny Safeway grocery in Half Moon Bay, and yet we didn’t feel we knew very much about them, often eating apples without paying much attention, so it seemed like a fun experiment to be more explicit and attentive to the process.

Here are our thoughts:

no sour bite
non-descript flavor

don’t seem good for eating – maybe for cooking

similar to McIntosh?
slightly sour


not crisp, slightly mealy
not sour
gently sweet – almost dry

Pink Lady
sweet & sour
not bright

Obviously this was not very scientific – we didn’t know what terms we would use to describe them until we started. Interesting to see what kind of vocabulary is needed to describe and categorize a the more subtle aspects of a sensory experience. We didn’t develop any idea of shadings of an adjective, such as sour – how sour? Relative to another apple, or absolutely?
We also only dealt with one sample of each apple type, so perhaps we weren’t eating a variety at its peak.

Fun to try, regardless.

Tiger Power – A New Breakfast Cereal

This is the first in an occasional series of reviews of new grocery (and other) products that strike me as interesting or unusual.

Tiger Power is a new breakfast cereal from Kellogg’s. It seems to speak very well to the mom-child dichotomy that conventional marketing wisdom suggests must be faced with every cereal, snack, or other consumable that the kids are going to have on their own…in other words, the kid must find it appealing, but the mother must be okay with letting their kid eat it.

I do believe at some basic level this is accurate; but having done a couple of ethnographic studies of the morning-time rituals in families, I’m not totally sure that this is the crux of the matter. The challenges with feeding kids in the morning goes beyond the positioning of existing categories of food; it is a situation rife with opportunity for the companies that can rethink existing categories food to begin to address the larger problems: individualized tastes, individualized schedules; blurring boundaries between meal and snack, the stretching of breakfast from a single-time-period (a “meal”) to a series of things eaten over time and over space.

A number of years ago we did research on this category; as a result our client General Mills launched the enormously successful Go-Gurt.

The Package
But anyway, back to Tiger Power. Here’s the package:
We see Tony the Tiger, hero of the sugar-loaded Frosted Flakes (weren’t they once known as Sugar Frosted Flakes?) – although they are now selling a reduced-sugar version. Tony’s here, so it’s gotta be good for kids. And yet he’s got his paternal arm around a young girl (another package shows a young boy), and she’s smiling a contented smirk; looking confident and ready to face the day.

The package stays away from the high-energy bulging eyeballs and hyper perspective with characters leaning way outa the box to pull us in, it’s pretty calm, but still kinda designy. Tiger pawprints (each with a TM) lightly fill the whitespace of the package. The logo is jauntily skewed, but not too much. Tiger Power suggests energy more than a sugar rush spinning into hyper-kinetic ADHD. The tail of the “g” is a tiger tail, with a bit of a visual homage to putting a Tiger in your tank. The tail is gentle and appealing to all.

Prominent next to the word “Tiger” is the emphasized “Whole Grain” – the new spin on breakfast cereal these days – General Mills is billboarding most of their packaging front real estate with the phrase, and here Kellogg’s is getting it in as well.

The slogan here is “Gr-r-eat for Growth!” – Tony language, but not aimed at the kids.

A few years ago Kellogg’s ran these amazing post-modern ads where adult fans were following Tony around trying to see him as he came out of buildings; the fans sat on lawn chairs and would show people their photographs of their efforts to date. It rang incredibly true as a characterization of fan culture (and having spent some time in the Rolling Stones trufan subculture, I can attest to that), and seemed to suggest that there was a big nostalgia play with Tony – adults grew up with him and why not have them continue to consume his product. So maybe there’s an angle there – the Tony presence is a way to remind the parents (or “moms” as the marketing folks would say) that this is a product for their kids, more than it might actually speak to the kids themselves.

The back of the package is all about calcium, fiber, and protein (the magic ingredients listed on the front), but it’s a fresh open design with gentle colors. More adult that child, for sure, but not Adult – not the staid layout of a Product 19 or a Plus 4 or a Special K or whatever-the-heck we’ve got nowadays for the serious fitness buff.

Opening ’em up and pouring ’em in a bowl – here they are close up:
Perhaps they are meant to resemble the trademarked tiger-paw-print on the front of the box? The actual cereal pieces are more circular in aspect ratio than foot shaped, but the visual connection is there.

They are small! Yes, the front of the box reminds us that the image is enlarged to show texture, but they are little guys. Cheerio-sized. Maybe better for little hands and mouths.

The milk goes on and the eating begins. They don’t seem sweet like a “sugar cereal” might. There is a fleeting sugar taste; almost frustrating in that as soon as your taste bads grab onto it, it’s gone. Your primate brain keeps seeking sweet taste but the masticating causes confusion as different tastes flow and emerge. The “wheat” taste of cereal replaces the sweetness, and then the sweetness is back.

It’s good. No doubt.

In terms of form factor, you get the problem of bowl escapees:
They are small and light enough that one’s efforts to spoon ’em up (as the level in the bowl declines) serve to simply push many of them to the edge of the bowl, and eventually over the edge, onto your lap, newspaper, floor, or dog. They don’t float as easily as other cereal, so getting your spoon directly underneath becomes more difficult. A beveled edge on the cereal piece might help here. Otherwise, the fingers of the other hand can be used in a daring pincer movement with the spoon to ensure all gets eaten.

Or, use more-than-needed milk to ensure that there’s always floating going on. It’s obviousy a matter of taste. Me, I can’t stand wasting the milk, and I often have concerns that too much milk may lead to premature sogginess.

As far as that goes, in the time it took to eat a small bowl, hungrily, they were starting to soften. No mushiness at all, but certainly not the original crispiness. A dawdling child who didn’t want to finish would probably end up with cereal pieces losing integrity and becoming seriously mushy.

A few minutes later and I’m having a minor sugar buzz. Extremely pleasant, just what you want from a morning cereal – maybe you’re awake, but maybe you could go back to sleep with that slight jitter behind your eyeballs. Bit of an unpleasant aftertaste, nothing a slug of OJ wouldn’t wash away.

This one is a fringe play, it’s got an interesting story, but there doesn’t seem to be anything serious behind it. It has to live on the shelves next to everything else; we found it on an end-cap and it jumped out there, but how will it survive? Again, it’s founded on some closely-held beliefs about the mom-child purchase process, but those may not be accurate enough to generate the kind of sales that will keep this product on the market.


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