Keep your R&D moving forward during Lock Down - Part 2
Social distancing to control the spread of Covid - 19 changed the face of consumer research almost overnight. Face to face testing of products by consumers in Central Locations became impossible to justify against the safety of researchers and respondents and like all our partner agencies, Sensory Dimensions, quickly postponed much of its planned Central Location Testing work.
So how do you collect reactions to products in these challenging times?
In-Home Product Testing (iHUT)
Placing products in consumer’s homes for evaluation and assessment is an ideal way to gain feedback without face to face contact. Testing food products in home is nothing new and in-Home Use Testing forms a core part of Sensory Dimensions quantitative offer.
In-home placement often forms the final sign off step for a new product or is used to investigate real and likely usage, robustness to cooking instructions and the impact of full serve or use over an extended period. It is used less routinely for competitor benchmarking or evaluation of prototypes except for food products where sequential tasting in a Central Location could be detrimental. Examples include foods with strong flavours (mint sweets or chewing gum); drinks where the whole portion must be assessed to get the full impression (carbonated drinks or protein shakes) or products where there is a mix of flavours in a multi-pack or single serve bag.
For the personal care and home care sectors, in-home testing is much more routine for benchmarking, prototype evaluation and safety testing amongst consumers.
Agencies know how to test products in home…the challenge now is being alert to the how this may be impacted by the current climate.
What must be considered?
It is critical that the objective of the research is clear and sensible and can be addressed ethically given travel restrictions and safety factors. Here are some things to consider.
- Mindset of the Respondent: the new ‘normal’ of isolated living is still very novel and people are distracted and settling into new habits. Sometimes, people are scared. Their priorities may be shifting. Shopping is difficult. We need to be mindful of this when commissioning and designing research. People may still be able to tell you confidently that they like A more than B, or that A tastes as sweet as B, but can they confidently report that they will buy A in two weeks’ time, or buy A instead of their usual brand? So, we need to be extra diligent about the research questions we ask and the inferences we draw. In addition, it is important to keep questionnaires concise and focused as people’s attention spans are likely to be shorter than before.
- Availability of the test sample set: sourcing competitors from retail outlets will be very difficult and must not to be encouraged at a time when shopping is limited to essential trips and many stores have restrictions on the number of units sold. But if you have, or can manufacture, all of the samples in -house, there is no barrier to testing.
- The need for accompanying products: we must not put consumers in a position where they feel obliged to shop to carry out a test. For example, if we want consumers to cook a burger and eat it in a bun, then we should be providing both the burger and the bun; if we want to assess a noodle soup base, we should supply them with the soup base and the noodles.
Safety of consumers and the Sensory Dimensions team is our utmost priority. Whilst in Lock Down, we are working with specialist logistics companies to ensure that all samples for consumer testing are packed, coded and distributed to consumers without the need for intervention by our teams.
This is how it works. We screen and recruit the consumer sample to agreed criteria from our extensive databases. We then supply the recruited respondents with all instructions. Test design information, sample handling and coding instructions are given to our partner who distributes the samples to the respondents together with printed instructions about sample preparation and order of assessment. The test questionnaire is designed by us using Red Jade software and sent to consumers via internet link. Once the data is back, we analyse, interpret and report the results giving you clear recommendations for next steps.
The Good News
We can do this quickly! From recruitment to report within a couple of weeks, depending on the number and type of products.
If you have a Product Research question that you need to address, then please get in touch. In Part 3, we will explore in-home testing beyond quantitative product testing, including: Packaging functionality, full mix testing (Concept-Product-Packaging-Price) and the use of Digital Qualitative techniques.