Using FlavorWiki's app and its user-friendly interface, consumers around the world answer questions about their flavour preferences for different food and drinks. The data is collected and processed by FlavorWiki's algorithm, and collated with data specific to the company that has signed up to FlavorWiki's service.
It then uses this the data to construct what it calls taste archetypes or taste personas. For instance, doing this for chocolate in Switzerland could yield between 10 and 12 meaningful perception cases.
“Flavorwiki’s key differentiator is that we don’t sell research projects, we sell subscriptions to product profiles which are gathered over the course one, two or three years," the company's CEO Daniel Protz told FoodNavigator.
"That data is then available to the client through a web portal so they can see what’s going on – what are the optimal profiles, do people like the product, are taste perceptions changing etc."
While the internet has allowed industry to amass data on consumer purchasing behaviour and preferences, the number one driver of food purchases - taste - has previously been out of reach, and the cost of traditional sensory panels can be prohibitive - some estimates put it at around €16,700 ($20,000) per test.
But ignoring taste can have expensive consequences: 75% of new products fail and industry spends €417 billion ($500 billion) globally each year in misdirected marketing and R&D.
Co-founded by Protz, who previously worked for Groupon and Deutsche Bank, data scientist Wolfram Willuhn who has 30 years’ experience in Silicon Valley under his belt and Paul Price, who was global head for mergers and acquisitions at the Hershey Company, Flavorwiki quantifies the feedback it receives from consumers and turns it into meaningful information.
It can calculate that a strawberry yoghurt is 20% too sweet, for instance.
“Our job is to understand what [the taste archetypes] are and how they look within that consumer group. As a secondary step, we can help our client match that archetype to individual consumers if they want to do that," Protz said.
“With existing CRM systems, you just don't have this information. All you have is purchase data, which can be useful and we use that information too, but you can't really tell as much about a person's preferences for food and taste if you don't ask them questions and then structure the feedback.”
FlavorWiki says its taste-profiling tech is best suited to retailers with private label ranges – Co-op and Migros in Switzerland have already signed up – and manufacturers that have an e-commerce portal. Online shopping portals, on-pack QR codes and social media groups provide direct “touch points” with consumers, eliminating the need to recruit a panel, which is one of the major costs.
However, that doesn’t mean it can only be used by retailers. After giving a presentation at Amsterdam’s Food Innovate, Protz said he received a call from Nestlé’s R&D department and is now in advanced talks with the Swiss manufacturer.
B2B suppliers have also signed up, and the start-up already works with several flavour houses.
In order to attract consumers, companies can offer incentives, such as free concert tickets, but offering too many giveaways may create biased results, and sometimes it isn’t necessary.
For consumers, who are presented with a bewildering choice of products and are tired of buying products that don’t match their preferences, Flavorwiki says its service allows them get their opinions heard. One of Flavorwiki’s retail customers simply explained to consumers that if they participated, it would be able to make more personalised suggestions, tailored to their taste.
Affordable for SMEs
A start-up itself – FlavorWiki recently took part in Kickstart Accelerator, scooping up first prize for Best Food Start-up and €21,000 (CHF 25,000) in non-equity funding – it wants to “scale down” its service to an “appropriate value and appropriate complexity” for small users.
“We definitely want to work with SMEs,” said Protz. “Our goal is to be in the neighbourhood of 10% of the price of doing this research today. But then of course we are interested in gathering 10 times or more the amount of data.”
One of the challenges that Potz comes up against is explaining to people how the firm actually gathers data because, traditionally, R&D departments at food companies rarely have any contact with the marketing departments.
“What’s really been surprising to us is that this intersection of digital engagement - extracting information about a product, its taste profile, public perception and consumer preference - doesn't happen very often.
“But as everything goes more digital and people buy more online, it’s going to become more important to capture this information and to capture it at scale.”