Whenever we experience something new we seek out comfort – safety – in something in that experience with which we are already familiar. Sometimes this is done consciously, for instance when travelling with a friend, at other times it is less conscious, such as picking at familiar foods during a party full of strangers.
This principle is especially true when trying new foods. Whether we are trying cuisines from around the world or just trying a different brand, we seek out familiar tastes and textures. These provide us with a reference point against which we can evaluate everything that is new or different about the product.
Without some familiarity – and Pareto, as ever, is about right here 80% familiar and 20% new – the new taste feels totally alien to us. We find it very difficult to identify what needs this will satisfy and rejection is the most likely outcome. Also, if the familiar taste is inappropriate to our current need state we are again likely to reject the product.
Context is also vital. Ouzo with fresh fish, olives and feta cheese on a warm Greek evening after a day on the beach and before your meal can be quite enjoyable, but it never works so well on a cold and wet November evening at home.
When trying to understand how consumers will respond to new flavours, textures, products we need to explore their emotional response and how this emotional response is affected by environment, context and communication. We need to understand which parts of the consumption experience are familiar to the consumer and what messages these are conveying. How the unfamiliar tastes and textures work in relation to the familiar. How they complement or challenge the emotional outtake from the familiar flavours.
Consumers generally struggle to articulate these very complex issues beyond saying that this does or does not work for me, but once you understand these emotional outtakes and why they are happening often very small changes to the product or the communication can make a huge difference to the success of the product.