So it goes in just about every field. The food industry has its own null results, but they can be a lot more expensive. The failure rate of new product launches is a shocking (to outsiders) 50%. It seems shocking because these are experts, armed with expensive demographic analyses and psychological information on the marketplace. They should know what people want.
But New Coke says that expertise isn't everything. Ditto for the McLobster, Life Savers Soda and Colgate's Kitchen Entrees. They were spectacular food failures.
Edgar Chambers IV, director of Kansas State’s Sensory Analysis Center says his group has created a metric that can help companies go from 50% to 70%. Obviously a subset of people in the private sector are going to proceed with caution about academic hypotheses when tens of millions of dollars are at stake, but it's worth looking at. He says their model got 75.8% of the successful products and 66.7% of the unsuccessful ones.
What mattered most? Being trendy was one - basically that means that a large company so afraid of failure it does nothing is sure to lose out to a smaller company. Being new in a category and leveraging an existing product also helped, though if you have never heard of Frito-Lay Lemonade it's because that is more a guideline than a rule. However, the Apple iPod was able to enter a saturated .mp3 player market and take it over. Being completely new (Coca-Cola Blak) or just weird ( Thirsty Dog! Crispy Beef-flavored bottle water for pets) was also a negative for success.
Yet no one is clamoring to talk about failures, even internally in many cases. Failed products are a top-secret mystery. I didn't come up with that Area 51 bit, Datamonitor analyst Tom Vierhile did, in an interview with Caroline Scott-Thomas at Food Navigator. He said, about failed food producy launches, “They are buried in an unmarked grave. There’s no tombstone. There’s no coroner on duty when products fail. Product failure is the Area 51 of the food industry."
Maybe it's because the senses are the Area 51 of the body - we can collate evidence but not really make a prediction or pin anything down. Why do I get the boldest coffee on planet Earth and then put French Vanilla creamer in it, when if you tried to serve me French Vanilla coffee I would make goat noises at you and run away? Why do entire regions of humanity prefer rougher toilet paper? On the coffee, as I discussed in The Science of Wine and Cheese, there is a startling variation in taste buds, which make explain my coffee thing.
There is also a bit of a gender issue, which will make the Womens' Studies Department at Harvard flip out. Women, Diana Derval, president of Derval Research told Elaine Watson, tend to be 'super tasters' more than men. 25% of people are super tasters, Derval says, and are sensitive to bitterness, sweetness, etc. while half of people are medium tasters - they can taste the bitterness of aspartame - and 25% are non-tasters who aren't overly sensitive to anything. 50/25 and 25 sounds a little too even to you and me but this is more art than science so the statistics are meaningless in an article about how meaningless food statistics are. What it does tell you is that while those 'blind taste tests' are fun to watch, they are basically meaningless too. They don't tell companies anything at all about what products will succeed, it is just good for commercials.
But it does tell us people who claim they can 'taste' genetically modified organisms are out of their skulls.
Citation: Alisa R. Doan, Edgar Chambers IV, 'Predicting success for new flavors with information known pre-launch: A flavored snack food case study', Food Quality and Preference Volume 25, Issue 2, September 2012, Pages 116–120 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2012.01.005
- 'Electronic Tasters' Improvement- New Machine Can 'Taste' Coffee
- Study: Phthalides Are The Magic In Celery That Makes Soups Taste Better
- Ben & Jerry's: Global Warming Is Changing The Flavor Of Ice Cream
- Next-Generation Ice Cream: Time-Released Flavors In Your Cone
- World's Largest Study On What Kids Like Says Girls Sense Of Taste Is Better Than Boys