Why do some flavors work and others fail?


It is unlikely that the format is wrong or that they have delivered a dud flavour. There will have been ample research done on these to ensure that they got them right. The chosen flavours would have been popular in research and preference testing gave a positive steer.

But consumer liking is a much more complex thing. When a consumer says that they like a product what they mean is that they like the way it makes them feel. This is an emotional response to their whole brand experience; the communication, their expectations, the packaging, their consumption experience.

When flavour B is not as successful as flavour A it is more likely that there is something missing or wrong in the emotional journey that flavour B is taking the consumer on.

Every consumption experience is a sensory and an emotional journey for the consumer. The sensory journey is the taste and texture and the emotional journey is the consumer’s psychological response to that sensory journey.

Flavour A is delivering an emotional journey that makes your consumer feel good about it. With Flavour B the narrative of the product delivery has slipped, taken a slight wrong turn, and the consumer is receiving a small miscue. Probably very subtle, maybe they are not even consciously aware of it, but flavour B is just not quite delivering as well as Flavour A.

Maybe Flavour A is strawberry and after extensive research the brand team have come out with Flavour B, a lemon flavour. You can be sure that they will have got the flavour intensity and balance right. The lemon will be neither too sweet nor too sour, it will deliver the same summer flavour, refreshing cues etc. etc. They will have tested the new flavour and consumers would have said it was at least as good as the original, maybe better, and how great it will be to have the alternative flavour.

At first the Lemon flavour sells well. It creates some excitement and a renewed interest in the brand. But then sales quickly fall away. Consumers tried it, thought that it was a great idea, but very quickly found they were choosing to buy the Strawberry again rather than the Lemon.

So what has gone wrong?

First, we need to understand what it is about the brand, its story and the product delivery that evokes the belief that consumers have in the brand. Then we need to look at the flavour variant to see how that delivers. It is great it delivers everything, except for just one or two small miscues.

A good strawberry flavour is quite a complex thing. A balance of sweet and sour, ripe, juicy notes and sharper – even astringent – green notes. Such complexities tend to be experienced by the consumer mid to rear mouth – later in the consumption experience. Lemon is a much simpler, cleaner, flavour. Its sweetness is experienced much earlier in the mouth – right at the start of consumption – its sourness – making the mouth water and delivering freshness -also earlier than much of the strawberry experience.

Although the overall sweetness of the product is the same for both versions the lemon flavour delivers its sweetness right at the beginning of the consumption journey. As is so often the case when companies test their new products with consumers, the greater initial hit of sweetness caused many of those consumers to feel that they preferred the lemon flavour to the strawberry. However, when eaten on its usual occasions this earlier sweeter taste, although popular, seems out of sequence compared to the more complex later strawberry flavour. It gives the wrong cues. It has changed the narrative of the product.

The answer could have been a more complex less initially sweet lemon verbena flavour, but the opportunity has been lost. The consumer has learnt that the Lemon version is not for them.

When you understand your consumers’ emotional journey with your brand and think about your flavours and textures as the tools that you are using to deliver that journey, getting flavours right first time becomes much simpler.

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

Providing Clarity on the Psychological relationships between consumers and brands