Manufacturers continually chase products that are well-liked in consumer tests; however by doing so, many are missing the point, according to Howlett.
Speaking to FoodNavigator at the recent NutraFormulate conference in the UK, the marketing and consumer insight expert warned that tests of consumer ‘liking’ for new products do not necessarily translate in to sales.
“Liking is a bit of an overrated notion, because we very often buy things that we don't necessarily like,” said Howlett.
Indeed, he said that many companies know that they can make their products more ‘liked’ in a research environment by making it taste sweeter.
“We know that we can make beers, drinks, and just about anything more 'liked' just by making it sweeter. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to make them sell better."
Howlett cited recent trends in UK coffee consumption as a good example of how consumer liking tests do not always reflect sales.
"The UK is a relatively new market for coffee ... And what's actually happened is that people started off with milder coffees, but they are now appreciating the bitterness of stronger coffees."
“If you test those coffees, they don't get 'liked' more. But they do get purchased more."
Another example of this is the market for dark chocolates, he said, noting that chocolates with the greatest sales tend to have quite challenging taste.
“When those products are tested in blind environments where people do not know the brand, consumers will say that they dislike the stronger and more challenging chocolates more. But they buy them more, because dark chocolate is all about having quite a challenging and different sort of experience, compared to the ease of eating milk chocolate.”
Don’t chase liking
According to Howlett, there are many categories that that are ripe for having products where you don’t have to chase liking, so long as the brand considers other parts of the conceptual profile.
For example, if a manufacturer wants the product to come across in a nutritionally healthy way, it might want to give it a different sort of cue – which might not be ‘liked’ but will do the communication job.
A great example of this is Red Bull, said Howlett.
“If people cast their mind back to the first time they drank Red Bull, very often they recognise that they didn’t actually like the taste,” he said. “It was deliberately challenging. They deliberately made it something that we couldn’t reference with things that we had previously been drinking … it didn’t taste like CocaCola, it didn’t taste like other carbonated soft drinks. It had quite a strange adult taste.”
According to Howlett, Red Bull realised that is was more important for the taste of the product communicated all of the attributes being communicated by the brand, than it was that consumers liked the taste of the product.
“It tasted like it would keep you awake. It tasted like it would help keep you dynamic,” he said.
“Everything was developed for their proposition to focus on that message, rather than chasing familiarity, or the niceness or pleasantness of the taste – which is what research normally does.”