beyond taste: 6 key sensory testing tips for FMCG product success

by: Becky Mead

In the fast-paced world of FMCG, launching a new product is often a high-stakes game of consumer acceptance and market timing.

It's a game where sensory testing can be the ace up your sleeve, yet sensory testing is a step often missed in the new product development (NPD) process. The common myths surrounding sensory testing paint it as a slow and costly process. One where you need a science degree to understand the results.

But sensory research is not as complicated, expensive or inaccessible as people think.

Far from being an extravagant line item, sensory testing is an investment against market missteps and a safeguard for your product’s success.

Here are five things you should know for sensory testing success in FMCG.

1. Sensory research goes beyond just the flavour

Sensory research isn't only about what we taste; it includes all of the senses.

duotone (38)-1

TESTING THE FULL EXPERIENCE OF YOUR PRODUCT 

We often 'eat with our eyes' first, so the look of a product can be just as crucial as how it tastes. The product's aftertaste, feel, and scent are equally important. These elements can make or break a consumer's experience.

TEST REAL-LIFE PRODUCT USE 

Sensory research can test how a product is used in real-life scenarios. Use in-home studies to examine the product's usage and the packaging's quality. How a product feels in the consumer's hands or its ease of use in their kitchen can be just as influential as its taste or smell.

USEFUL IN EVERY CATEGORY 

Sensory research isn’t limited to more obvious categories like beer and chocolate. You can actually use sensory research for categories like deodorant, dishwashing, nappies, or pet care products.

 

2. You need to choose the right taste testers

Sensory testing helps you figure out if people will like your product. But who should do the testing?

duotone (39)-2

EXPERT PANELS

Experts, like your internal team, have a lot of knowledge about certain products. Experts are great for feedback on things like wine because they're an expert team that knows the category well and how to evaluate wine.

TRAINED PANELS: THE MIDDLE GROUND 

Trained panels can be an internal team or made up of external consumers. These people are chosen for their sharp senses. They’ve been taught how to notice and talk about small details in taste and smell. Trained panels are good for profiling a product or if you’re making process or ingredient changes to your product.

CONSUMER PANELS: HEARING FROM YOUR SHOPPERS

Consumer panels are groups of everyday people like your buyers. They’re good for acceptability tests when you want to know if your target audience will accept a new product or changes to an old favourite.

 
 
3. You need to choose the right place

When you picture sensory testing, you might imagine scientists in white coats in a super clean lab. While labs are common because they help keep tests consistent and fair, testing can happen in many other places, like homes and restaurants, too.

duotone (40)

LAB TESTING

In a lab, or what's called a central location test (CLT), everything is controlled. The room's colour, the noise level, even how the product is given to people—it's all carefully managed. This makes sure nothing, but the product influences what people think about it. For example, the same coffee might seem different if it's served in cups of different colours, but in a lab, we avoid that by making everything else the same.

TAKING IT TO THE REAL WORLD

Sending a product home with people lets us see how it does in the real world—does the packaging work when it’s actually used in a kitchen? Does the product still appeal after a few days? This type of test, known as in-home usage testing (IHUT), gives us insights that lab settings can’t.

WHY THE SETTING MATTERS 

The choice between a lab and real-life testing depends on what you need to know. Labs are great for detailed feedback on the product itself, while real-life tests show how the product fits into everyday life. Both methods are valuable, and switching up where and how you test can give you a full picture of how your product will do out there in the real world.

 

4. Timing is everything

Waiting until the end of the product development process, after investing time and effort into a new concept or packaging, can be risky.

duotone (41)-1

THE VALUE OF EARLY SENSORY INSIGHTS

Bringing sensory research in earlier can make a huge difference. It's not just about confirming that a concept is ready for the market. It's about shaping the product from the ground up to make sure the concept you're excited about is something consumers will love, too. Early testing, whether it's a quick check-in with consumers or more in-depth qualitative research, helps match the product with consumer expectations right from the start.

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS ALONG THE WAY

You can use sensory research to co-create with consumers, adjusting formulations early on. It’s more effective to refine as you go rather than discover issues too late in the process. Early sensory input ensures that both the product and its market proposition are aligned, which is crucial for long-term success and repeat purchases.

 

5. You can cut costs without cutting corners

Project managers have to be savvy with their budgets. While sensory research may seem pricey, the cost is justified. You’re paying for genuine reactions from real users. These costs are an investment in getting reliable data that could make or break your product’s success.

duotone (42)-2

STRATEGIC SPENDING ON SENSORY STUDIES 

Not every sensory test needs a big-budget approach. For smaller updates, save money with smart alternatives like quick feedback sessions or in-home trials. These methods give you the insights you need without the full-blown expense.

GLOBAL INSIGHTS VS LOCAL FLAVOURS 

Using sensory data from tests you’ve already done overseas? Tread carefully. What works in the US or UK might not hit the mark in Australia. Use this information as a starting point, but always double-check with local tastes to ensure your product resonates here at home. This doesn’t have to be a large-scale check; it could be a smaller check-in to make sure it’s going to work.

 

6. You need to keep sensory research current

Reusing old sensory data is tempting, especially when budgets are tight. But tastes and trends shift quickly, especially in dynamic categories. It's crucial to reassess and update sensory research to ensure it aligns with the present consumer preferences rather than relying on outdated data that may no longer be relevant.

duotone (43)-2

A SECRET WEAPON IN PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT

Sensory testing is like having a secret weapon. It guides you on everything from making your product more appealing and cost-effective to choosing the best new flavours to add. By using feedback from real people throughout the process of making your product, you're way more likely to create something they'll love and buy.

Transform the way you develop products with sensory research that’s comprehensive, strategic, and consumer-focused. Email me at becky@playinnovation.com.au to learn how to infuse sensory insights into every stage of your product development process.

 


 

read it, love it, share it.

about the author

Becky Mead

Becky has spent the last 18 years getting curious about understanding consumers so FMCG manufacturers can create products they truly want. Becky’s favourite part of the job is helping businesses leverage the consumer perspective to grow - fast! She believes in the benefits of working in partnership with her clients across the entire innovation process and focuses on consumer-first, agile approaches.

ask the author

related posts