Friday, April 10, 2015

What Consumer Testing is REALLY like for a Food Scientist

I never thought a food science degree would involve me sitting on the floor, surrounded by papers, FedEx envelopes, and tiny silver pouches filled with something I'd been working on for the last year. And yet, this is usually how it's done.

This is a series of posts in which I share snippets of what it's like to be a food scientist. As a product developer for dry powder shakes, there are some lessons I never learned in school and some challenges I never saw coming. 

This Guest Blog below is courtesy of my friend and colleague, Alex Funk.

A Day in the Life of a Food Scientist: Consumer Testing Edition

After months of formulating a product and completing numerous shelf life studies, there comes a time when you want to see if your consumers will like and accept it. You can become quite enamored with your product, and you should, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be successful in the marketplace.

This is why we carry out consumer testing. There are a lot of ways to go about this, one of which is to do an in-home consumer test. The product is sent to the consumers’ home with instructions for the intended use of the product. After the designated trial period (in this case, a week), the consumers will fill out a survey that we have created to capture information on specific aspects of the product we want to test. The survey can include questions related to organoleptic properties (taste, texture, odor, etc.), if the product works as expected, etc. After the consumers fill out all their surveys, all of the data is analyzed and interpreted.

If this sounds like a lot of work, that is because it is a lot of work. People don’t always realize the details involved. Performing one small task for 360 samples adds up pretty quickly. Here are some of those time consuming details:

1. Packing off the samples
After taking the time to make large batches of the product, you need to take into account the time to pack off each sample. If it takes 1 minute per sample, and you have 360 samples, that’s 6 hours.

2. Labeling
First, you draft the labels. Then, you have upper management review them and decide if any changes need to be made. This happens a couple of times until everyone is happy with the outcome. After printing the labels, you need to apply them to the samples. Sometimes there’s more than one label, so applying two labels to one sample 360 times is an all day affair.

3. Tamper evidence seal
This wasn’t a requirement for my study, but I wanted to ensure the jars we were using arrived sealed, for the sake of protecting the product and the consumer. I used a 3M tape that can stretch around the lid and seal. If it takes 30 seconds to tape one jar, it would take 3 hours to complete 360 jars.

4. Product Insert
As with any package sent with an item requiring a user manual, you must include instructions with the samples. Since R&D developed the product, they must include instructions on how to use it. This is usually added with a marketing sheet in the package.

5. Build shipping boxes
The sound of the tape gun was constant for a couple of days as I built the shipping boxes for the samples in between meetings.

6. Filling the shipment
Placing the samples, instructions and bubble wrap to fill in gaps takes some time! Order matters, because you want them to read the instructions first before opening the samples. This means you can’t just stuff everything in willy-nilly.

7. Taping the boxes closed

Again, the nonstop sound of the tape gun. This is also when you double-check that all the correct contents are in the box. This took a solid two days.

8. Shipping Labels
Entering in 360 addresses, printing 360 shipping labels, placing them in plastic envelopes, and taping them on the boxes = a lot of work.

9. After shipment
Your work is not done once the delivery person places all shipments in the truck. Emails with questions start rolling in, and anything related to package shipments and R&D specific product questions come to your attention for answering. 
No, this isn't comfortable, but it's part of the process.

In short, there is a lot of planning, organizing, preparation, labeling, taping, sweating and exhaustion. But it’s all part of the fun of launching a new product!

Related Posts from GreenEyedGuide's Day-in-the-Life-of-a-Food-Scientist series:

No comments:

Post a Comment