It tastes great, so why aren’t Consumers buying it?


It is so frustrating when you know the product is great and you can see the branding, positioning and price are OK because you are getting trial, but you are not getting repeat purchase.

Your product developers and your taste panel all think it is a fantastic tasting product, but your consumers don’t seem to agree. Now, retailers are pulling you off the shelf and even questioning other lines in your brand. How could you have got it so wrong?

If your product development kitchen and you taste panel say it is a good, then undoubtedly it is a great tasting product, they probably know more about what it should taste like than most of your consumers.

But that is exactly your problem…

Your consumers are not experts. This is especially true when your products are not traditional to your market. British consumers do know a lot about tea – although many tea experts I have met may disagree, they have at least enough experience of British consumers’ tea taste preferences to have a good idea about what works in the market and what will not.

However, contemporary supermarket shelves are full of offerings from many parts of the world, often regions that relatively few of the consumers have actually visited, let alone have extensive knowledge of the cuisine.

Inevitably the most popular lines are adjusted to suit the local palate. Anything too exotic or strange is too challenging and consumers will struggle to understand how and where it fits into their lives. As in many other fields, Pareto’s Principle is a great guide here. When stepping outside of our comfort zone 80% familiar and 20% new allows us to feel comfortable enough and to understand how and when we prepare and serve this new food. When we move outside of this ratio too many consumers start to find the product too challenging or confusing. They will not buy it again, but when asked why, may struggle to explain their reason with any clarity.

There are the obvious things to consider; does it look reasonably familiar, is the aroma appealing, does the consumer know how to prepare it, how and when to serve it and what with. Do they know how it should be eaten (with the fingers, knife and fork, chopsticks…) and do they have and understand any dips or sauces that will enhance their experience.

Then there is the taste…

How familiar or challenging are the textures and the flavours. What do they expect from this cuisine? Are you delivering it? Are you over delivering, going too far? Is there a signature taste to your cuisine – say a warming chilli – but how should this be delivered in relation to the core ingredient – say a shrimp? It may not be that your chilli is too hot, but simply that your chilli heat is being experienced before they enjoy the shrimp when they would prefer it to be afterwards.

The sequencing and layering of your flavours is the most complex part of your experience and this is where it is most likely to go wrong.

Invariably different cultures use flavour and texture in different ways. It is this that is most attractive to us when experiencing foods from across the world, but it can also be challenging. Getting this balance right is the challenge for any brand delivering different cuisines into any market.

Coming back to your product developers and your tasting panel, they inevitably are more exposed to the cuisine that you are working with. They may not notice how challenging a slightly different sequencing of flavours can be to your consumers. They may even believe that this is what makes the product attractive. While for your consumers it is the 2% too much challenge that tips them into not repeat purchasing.

What is the answer?

Researching your development products with your target consumers might seem like a good idea, but most consumers cannot articulate this kind of detail. So, you end up working with a panel of expert consumers and are back where we started – or you are running constant product comparisons hoping that eventually you will find the one that works.

The alternative is to work with a research methodology that goes beyond consumers’ reported likes and dislikes and focuses upon the sensorial and emotional journey through the consumption experience.

When you can track the ups and downs of the consumers’ emotional journey as they prepare and consume the product and understand the sensorial cues that prompt the individual emotional responses, you can understand the subtleties of the taste and textural journey and identify what needs changing and how to ensure you deliver a consumer experience that is both true to your brand and cuisine and works for the consumer.

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

Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands