3 ways sensory research safeguards success

by: Andrew Turner

At PLAY, we’re huge fans of helping you uncover the right insights to drive innovation. One of our many specialties is reviewing and ‘renovating’ existing products so you can find that golden nugget, sooner. With our unparalleled facilities and expertise, we can create the best approach to suit your product, budget and timeline. So, how do you know if it's just a paint job or if the whole house needs work?

To revamp or not to revamp?

Some of the main drivers for a product review include:

  • Improving margin driven by the cost of ingredients or budget concerns.
  • Corporate social responsibility such as focusing on fair trade, reducing sugar, removing palm oil or improving health credentials.
  • Changes in competitive landscape. Perhaps someone else did something different and people seem to like it!



The tricky bit is figuring out how best to undertake such research so we can ensure that we don't adversely impact your consumer. Retention has to be front of mind. And if we can pick up some new customers along the way, then even better!

celebrating customer success

Weighing up the way forward.

First and foremost, sensory evaluation needs to be considered. To get to the heart of your product and decide on the right method, some key factors need to be taken into account:

  • The risk: What is it worth if we mess it up? 
  • The urgency: How quickly do we need to act? And can we realistically act in that timeframe?
  • The legacy: How long have we been around? Is our taste imprinted in a key audience? Can we flex on taste?
  • The feasibility: Can we actually afford to make this on a commercial scale?

Just as any fan of the original Milo in New Zealand would know, it’s dangerous to fix something that ain’t broke unless you have a really good reason to try and do so.


Here are 3 key ways sensory research can help you achieve success:

1. Central Location Testing.

Central Location Testing using sensory booths, controlled preparation and product handling is a great way to understand if consumers can detect differences in formulations. This gives us a quick read on what’s working and can guide further optimisation. It can also help us benchmark against our ‘old formulation’ as well as key competitors in the market. As a quantitative approach, it is well suited to higher risk products such as those with bigger brand share, long history in market, loyal fan bases or products with quite complex taste profiles.

Sampling food in a CLT

2. Home Usage Testing.

Home Usage Testing is a fantastic ‘pre-launch’ step. When we’ve refined down to one (or two) key formulations, putting the new product through its paces in the real-life context of a ‘home’ can tell us whether it’s ready to roll out or highlight potential issues. This is a great approach for higher risk products, and those where usage can be highly variable across households.

There’s no doubt these methods are effective but sometimes, there needs to be a faster way.


3. Innovation Sprints.

Innovation Sprints enable rapid development and iteration of product formulations in the context of the brand and packaging. Similar to ‘sensory qual’ or ‘product clinics’, the approach uses qualitative discussion to understand consumers claimed behaviours, their language around the taste of products and direction for optimisation. Meanwhile, the client gets to align different teams on a shared vision and get a quick nudge in the right direction (think: category, brand, promise, pack, product). Best of all, Design Sprints can be tailored to suit your timeline and the unique needs of your proposition.

Imagine what the collective team could accomplish in only one week if all were aligned and engaged in real time with the consumer research? It can happen! And it does happen.

Design sprints

With focus group rooms, kitchen facilities and eye tracking capability in both Sydney and Melbourne, a 30-booth Central Location Testing facility in Sydney and national support to home usage testing, there’s a way to find the right test for the right product with our expertise and support.

Have something else in mind? Let’s chat! No problem is too big or small for our team. Get in touch on 02 8097 0200 or email hello@playmr.com.au at any time. 



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about the author

Andrew Turner

As PLAY’s Associate Director, nothing pleases Andrew more than getting to the “Why” of people’s claimed behaviour. With a background in Social Psychology and a 16-year research career spanning FMCG, services and social territories, his key belief in any project is to "tell you what you need to know, not just what you want to hear". Aside from being our sensory expert, Andrew is an avid foodie and loves to wet a line at the nearest stretch of water. He’s also a musician, having once been the lead singer in a metal band.

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