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What is a taste test? A case study
Taste testing represents Testpoint “core business”. There is no product that escapes the taste testing: from pasta to sauce, from juices to ice creams, from baked goods to frozen foods: generally, in one session, different references of the same product are compared.
The fieldwork for a taste test can involve a large number of people in one city and can be replicated in different cities.
Taste tests are carried out essentially in central locations: until some time ago, it was necessary to find equipped spaces such as bars or restaurants, but now there are facilities specifically equipped with professional kitchens, induction hobs, ovens, refrigerators, freezers, etc. therefore it is no longer necessary to use external facilities.
The first step is always to recruit people who meet the screening criteria (that is, consumers of that product with variable frequency, the sample must be representative by gender, age, etc.)
A taste test generally involves about 100 cases, that is, there are at least 100 people involved in each city; if 4 cities are tested, at least 80 people in each city are involved. Respondents are invited to a central location for tasting, which generally involves comparing the product / prototype with a couple of competitors already on the market. In a session, you can taste a maximum of 5 products in an hour. There can be a maximum of 10 products to be tasted in two sessions across 2 days.
Each product must be prepared and served according to its specific protocol and of course, if multiple locations are involved, the procedure must be the same in all locations.
The products to be tested can be the most varied, from the snack that you simply have to remove from the package and serve, to freshly cooked products such as pasta, gnocchi, sauce, or even meat, or frozen products to be baked in the oven.
If the taste test is about pasta, the sessions are organized with a limited number of people because you have to cook the product at the moment and serve it, and this takes some time. The pasta is served with oil and salt in order to evaluate its taste and texture without the interference of the sauce.
If it is the sauce to be tasted, a first visual evaluation is carried out by serving it in small bowls, then it is tasted on the pasta in order to evaluate it hot, however asking the respondents to consider the sauce and not the pasta.
The sandwich bread is tasted both as is and stuffed with cheese and ham.
The drinks deserve a separate discussion: you have to pay close attention to the temperature at which they must be served, therefore not only the fridge must be set at the right temperature butalso the drink must be servedat the correct temperature.
For beer you must also make sure that there is always the same amount of foam, and it must be served as soon as it is poured from the bottle/can.
A taste test for frozen products is quite complex: the products must be cooked at the moment, all prepared in the same way, for example taking care to always put the same number of pieces in the oven, etc.
Workstations and kitchen
Consumers are placed in special workstations, separated from each other by table dividers. It is important that the table, napkins, dishes, glasses, everything is white to prevent the color from interfering during the visual evaluation of the product.
On the table there are always natural water and unsalted crackers or white bread in order to clean the palate between a taste and another. When testing in multiple cities, you should always use the same brand of water or crackers in all cities in order to have the same conditions everywhere.
Each workstation is also equipped with tablets so that the respondents can entertheir responses after each tasting.
In order for the protocol to be strictly respected, it is important that the person in charge of product preparation is always the same for the entire duration of the field.
People in the kitchen and those who serve the products must be properly dressed, that is, they must wear hair net, gloves, apron exactly like in a restaurant kitchen.
Of course, between one session and another, everything is changed and cleaned.
For the entire duration of the test, for all cities and for all products, as we have already underlined, it is essential that everything takes place in a uniform and standardized way, in the most scrupulous observance of the protocol agreed with the client.
Just to check that everything is carried out with precision and uniformity, the clients often attend the taste tests.