Cutting costs but not the consumer experience.


I read an article today that included the word “Greedflation” in the headline accusing the food industry of “greedily” continuing to increase its prices while broader inflation is falling.

While the article did recognise there may be a lag effect as increased material costs find their way into shop prices it was not hesitating in criticising the “greedy” behaviour of food manufactures and made no reference to the years in the past couple of decades when food inflation has been lower than general inflation.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this argument the pressure on food and drink brands to decrease their costs while maintaining quality and consumer liking is only increasing.

While in most cases all the easy wins were had a long time ago and the desire for new cost savings is looking more like a wish than a realistic possibility.

But are you looking in the right place?

While improving technology and ingredients may offer some cost savings these are slow in coming, hard won, and available equally to your competitors as to your brands.

A different approach may find you more fruitful areas for cost cuts.

When you ask your consumers why they like your product they undoubtedly talk about its flavour first, then maybe its texture. But, in reality, they like your product because of the way that it makes them feel.

The sensorial properties of your product – its appearance, aroma, taste, texture etc – are all prompts. They create an emotional response in the consumer. It is this emotional response that consumers like or do not enjoy.

Psychological tracking of consumers’ emotional responses and connecting these back to their sensorial experience can be very enlightening.

Through this approach you can identify the individual features within the flavour, texture, aroma, appearance etc – and how they interact together – that prompt positive and negative responses in your consumers.

Every client always tells me it all boils down to flavour, but in reality, it in fact boils down to small aspects of the flavour and how they interact with small aspects of appearance, aroma or texture that drives liking.

Once you understand this you also realise that there are certain aspects of your current product that you can change without affecting consumer liking at all.

Small details in the way that the flavour, texture – or other aspects – are delivered that may be noticeable to your sensory panel but make no difference to your consumers’ emotional response to your product – that do not affect liking or preference.

Sometimes these small changes can be significant in terms of cost saving. An expensive ingredient or process that has always been considered essential can be dropped or decreased without upsetting consumer liking.

When you believe that flavour is the most important factor of consumer liking it becomes very difficult to save costs on ingredients or processes. However, when you understand exactly which aspects of your flavour delivery are driving liking, there are often additional cost savings to be had.

Chris Lukehurst is a Consumer Psychologist and a Director at The Marketing Clinic:

Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands