Monthly Archives :

May 2019

Curion: First Impressions – Prepared Foods

Curion: First Impressions – Prepared Foods 150 150 Katie Maslanka

A consumer’s embrace of a new brand begins before they ever try the product. If the packaging is inappropriate, brand acceptance can fail and consumers may not choose the product to start with. That’s why first impressions matter.

For example, in a FoodDive article on packaging fails, there is the story about Sun Chips’ biodegradable bag made from plants. What Millennial wouldn’t love that? But sales began to decline shortly after launch because the bag made a loud “grumbling” noise that consumers said reminded them of a jet engine or lawnmower. It even spawned a Facebook group called “Sorry but I can’t hear you over this Sun Chips bag.”

This is just the type of scenario Curion can help brands avoid. A well-respected partner to leading consumer brands in the area of product and sensory testing, Curion is now turning its research and consumer expertise toward packaging.

“We believe in a holistic approach,” says Sean Bisceglia, Curion’s CEO. “All elements of a brand’s offering — the product, positioning, messaging and the package itself — need to tell a cohesive story, one that gives consumers a reason-to-believe that this product is the right one for them.”

The goal of Curion’s consumer driven package design approach is to develop the ultimate prototype and test its viability with consumers. This rigorous system, designed by Curion’s Andrew Livermore PhD, Senior Vice President for Product and Client Services, is already available at Curion sites across the nation.

Says Livermore, “Big CPG companies spend a lot of time and money developing products, but the packaging often doesn’t get the same emphasis. We work alongside brand marketers, designers, and product developers, taking them through a six-step process that identifies the functional and emotional benefits most important to the target consumers. This informs the creation of packaging prototypes with strong consumer appeal that reinforce the concept and positioning. We then put prototypes in front of consumer panels and even gain insights from large-scale confirmatory testing.”

For example, sustainable packaging is also imperative today for many retailers like Wal-Mart who have set high standards, demanding that packaging for their private brands be recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Adds Livermore, “Our process answers questions such as: Is the product positioned for sustainability? Does the packaging reflect those values? You may not want a health bar in a non-recyclable package. ”

Curion’s consumer-driven packaging design approach addresses the above questions and drills down into others, such as:

•    Does package design fit your product concept?

•    Does it take a creative approach to restraints such as budget, time to market, and types of materials?

•    Can it be executed without unreasonable demands?

•    Does it reflect the appropriate functional and emotional benefits?

•    Is it differentiated from competitors?

•    Does it check all the boxes for sensory appeal on the shelf?

“The main goal of our packaging research,” adds Mr. Bisceglia, “is to mitigate risk on behalf of our clients. We are thorough. Our approach combines qualitative and quantitative methodologies.”

Curion’s Qualitative Sensory Immersion (QSI) identifies key features that enhance product trial and repeat purchase through collaboration with articulate and involved consumers. Adds Livermore, “Using this tool for packaging allows us to tap attributes such as alignment with brand, concept, the products function, ergonomics, usability, materials, believability, sustainability and quality. We also learn what is most important to them and what drives them crazy. All these insights get built into our prototypes.”

“On the quantitative side,” he adds, “we recruit consumers from our extensive database. They provide feedback on prototypes regarding overall liking, drivers of consumer appeal, fit to product concept, uniqueness and emotional profile. The value of this Qual-Quant method is that it combines the rich learnings from talking and interacting with consumers — backed by the numerical validation that comes from data analytics. This helps transform packaging concepts into best-possible prototypes that have strong consumer appeal.”

Curion is a leader in sensory and consumer product research and serves Fortune 500 and other blue-chip customers in the food & beverage, personal care, fine fragrance, and home & fabric care industries. In 2018 alone, the company tested 97,000 consumers in its facilities in California, Chicago, Dallas, and New Jersey. Curion’s data analytics give brand owners what they need most: product readiness for launch, consumer purchase decision process, competitive landscape and more.

The result of a merger between Q Research Solutions and Tragon Corp., Curion brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the consumer and sensory science industry. The company pioneered many of the sensory methodologies considered industry standards today, including Quantitative Descriptive Analysis (QDA)®  and Partnership Solutions (PS).

Visit for more information.

Curion: First Impressions
Curion applies its research lens to consumer-driven package design
21 May 2019


Yuck or yum? Product testing with children – FoodNavigator-USA

Yuck or yum? Product testing with children – FoodNavigator-USA 150 150 Katie Maslanka

Do kids always prefer sweeter products than adults? And are children’s palates really more conservative, or have we ‘trained’ them to like a limited set of flavors (banana, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry) by playing it safe with new launches? And how do you conduct product testing with three-year olds?

For a start, said Keren Novack, VP sensory and consumer insights at Deerfield, IL-based consumer insights and product testing specialist Curion​, CPG companies need to develop products that parents will like as much as their kids, even if they are not the target consumer.

“A lot of products we test that are geared towards children are also tested with parents, because very rarely does a parent give something to a young child that they have not first tested themselves,”​ she told FoodNavigator-USA.

“As far as the taste goes, how the children rate it matters the most, but you want to make sure that the product is not rejected by the parents.”

If parents and​ very young children consistently prefer product A over product B, meanwhile, the more detailed answers that the adults are able to provide on specific product attributes might help clients unpack what is determining liking among the kids, which three-year olds may not be able to articulate if you ask them, she said.

Children can be much more adventurous than we give them credit for​

So what about flavor preferences? Are kids as conservative as we think? It’s hard to say because packaged food companies – unlike parents trying to get their kids to eat veggies at home – want to make products that kids will embrace immediately, not something that they might like after repeated exposure, which can encourage an inherent conservatism, said Novack.

Put another way, if we only expose kids to a limited number of flavors, they will inevitably have a less adventurous palate, she speculated.

“Children can be much more adventurous than we give them credit for. What I’ve found from personal experience is that if you just put broccoli or whatever the new food is on the plate every meal, then after a while they might eat it.

“But if you’re buying a snack for your child’s lunchbox, you are often scared if kids don’t like something straightaway as you don’t want to waste time and money and you want them to eat, so you can tend to stick to the more familiar products.

“It’s also why products have a lot of sugar added because it increases the likelihood that the children will like them straightaway. But you wonder if that is because we’ve just exposed them to so much sugar.”

Do kids like food with ‘bits’?​

The same might also apply to texture, she postulated. If you give babies “mushy​” pureed foods for any length of time, could this make them more suspicious of different textures?

With the baby led weaning movement, where you’re encouraged to expose them to pieces of food off your plate earlier, I have to think that the exposure to those different textures might impact what they end up liking later.”

She added: “One thing I also warn my clients is that if you just take one or two bites of something in a testing booth, you can often prefer a product with more sugar or a stronger flavor, but if you were to take the product home and eat the entire box, the flavor build and development can be very different, so you have to factor that in. The sweeter products often win out in early testing, but I think we are seeing a shift now.”

Blind taste testing​

While packaged food is not consumed ‘blind’ (it always comes in a package with branding and messaging which can have a huge impact on how its contents are perceived), there is still value in blind testing at the product development phase, said Novack.

We always say that marketing will do all the work to get people to buy a product the first time, but that our our job​ ​[for Curion’s CPG clients] is to get people to buy the product a second time.​ So when you’re considering different prototypes or you want to know how your product stacks up against the competition, blind testing is very important.”

If your product performs better in blind taste tests than a rival brand with stronger sales, for example, you might need to look again at your packaging or marketing.

One interesting phenomenon, said Novack, is that the market leading product is not always the most liked product in blind taste tests with adults, whereas with kids, that is more likely to be the case.

“We’ve had kids say, ‘Excuse me, I don’t like this,’ and push it back through the window,” says Curion VP sensory and consumer insights, Keren Novack. “Kids are not afraid to tell you the truth.”

The logistics of product testing with children​

When it comes to designing tests, “obviously what a six-year-old can handle is very different from what an 18-year old can handle, so with adults we’ll use a nine point hedonic scale, whereas for younger kids we may use a three-point scale for liking but also for things like flavors, colors, and textures,” ​she said.

“Was the flavor too strong, too weak, or just about right? 

One thing we’ve also noticed is that adults tend to have what we call ‘end scale avoidance’ and are almost afraid to mark the very highest point, whereas if a kid likes something they will often give it the highest mark. But that can make it hard to compare two products they like.”

So what about babies and toddlers?

“We’ve actually done tests with children that are just a year old, and when you’re talking about a child that young, they are obviously not filling in a questionnaire on a computer,” ​joked Novack. “Rather the parents are looking for cues from their children as to whether they like something or not. However, at that age it’s quite simply will they eat it, but you can also see which ones they choose from a selection of products.

“For particularly young children you can have an interviewer read some questions and the older children get the more complex you can make the scale. If I have a 12 or 13 year old in sitting a testing booth however, I’d consider putting them on the similar scales to the adults.”

Can you train your kids to love broccoli?​

Find out at FoodNavigator-USA’s FOOD FOR KIDS summit​ in Chicago November 18-20, where delegates can hear from Dr Catherine Forestell, associate professor, at the department of psychological sciences at William & Mary, who will explore when and how children’s flavor preferences are developed, why children prefer or dislike certain foods, and whether we can shift these hardwired preferences through early sensory experience.

You can also learn more about product testing with Curion and others in our new panel session: Yuck or Yum: Product testing with kids.

Get full details about the summit​​ HERE​​​.



FOOD FOR KIDS: Yuck or yum? Product testing with children
By Elaine Watson
03 May 2019

Is Cannabis Ready for Sensory Testing? – Prepared Foods

Is Cannabis Ready for Sensory Testing? – Prepared Foods 150 150 Katie Maslanka

Anyone who recently has visited Colorado, California or the District of Columbia knows that cannabis dispensaries are a dynamic part of the retail landscape. This also is occurring in states where regulations permit only medicinal, or CBD-infused products.

Of course regulatory issues represent the biggest challenge at the moment. In the US, where cannabis is being legalized on a state-by-state basis, brands must be rigorous with their on-pack communications. There are state and FDA laws, child-resistant provisions, as well as THC and CBD ingredient disclosures. Labeling laws are the biggest hurdles—particularly since they are different in every state and are periodically updated.

That said, new brands are springing up everywhere. And CBD-infused products that contain no THC ingredients are easy to find throughout the US. The variations seem to be limitless. Think about it: cannabis is now found in confections, beverages, edibles, skin-care products, pharmaceuticals and sprays.

You also see celebrities including Snoop Dogg, Martha Stewart and Whoopi Goldberg establishing brands. This is a no brainer. They are leveraging their celebrity and fan base. It will get trickier when we begin to see cannabis-infused products from established consumer names, like Coca-Cola, Heineken or Nestlé.

For the time being, these larger companies are in a holding pattern to see what the future regulatory landscape looks like and how cannabis brands play out with consumers. But legacy brands are long-time believers and subscribers of consumer product testing. They know the advantages to be gained by engaging their audience before hitting the shelf.

This helps them gain insights on consumer tastes and preferences, which are vital to creating a positive consumer “experience.” Testing also allows brands to make changes to taste profiles and packaging in order to mitigate the risks that drive today’s super-competitive landscape.

Cannabis brands have to answer the same questions as any consumer product. These include several fundamental and critical questions, such as: 

*Are we delivering a product with strong consumer appeal?

*Are we able to truly differentiate this product from competition?

*Are we able to provide users with a reason to believe this product it will meet or exceed the item’s functional and/or emotional benefits?

There are a host of additional questions that are no less important.

*Who is our target audience?

*What features are they looking for in this type of product? Which of these are most important (drivers of liking) and which should we avoid?

*How much do they like our product compared to other offerings? Which do they prefer and why?

*What is their preferred flavor profile and how do we achieve it?

*How important is flavor compared to the look, feel, packaging and claims?

*How and when will they use the product, what are the usage occasions that we should focus on? What products is it competing with for these occasions?

Sensory Testing

If your company is wrestling with any or all of these questions, you need look no further than sensory testing.

Curion Insights uses its expertise in product research—specifically “sensory” consumer and market testing in a wealth of product categories—to take a holistic view of consumer experience. We test products and packaging through each of the senses: sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. These need to come together to engage the consumer and validate the promise of the brand.

As with any other successful product, new cannabis brands also need sensory and consumer research to optimize a new product’s appeal. For CBD-infused products that contain no active (recreational) ingredients such as THC, product testing is much the same as it is for any consumer category.

A CBD product’s sensory attributes need to be appropriate to its specific character. For example, we may be asking whether a CBD-infused gummy tastes different from a regular one. Or do consumers perceive that the product gives off a particular smell because of its association with cannabis? (And if so, are these good or bad things? After all, when you test mouthwash, it needs to have just the right amount of burn or people don’t believe it works.)

Curion also can gather and test sensory, consumer and marketing claims—such as “lemony fresh aroma,” “relieves muscle aches” or “all natural.” This helps brand owners better understand how these factors may influence consumer appeal.

In addition, research also includes a variety of non-product specific features—from graphics, colors and messaging to child-resistant labeling and plant traceability. Moreover, anything subject to regulatory labeling is critical to cannabis brands.

There also are other requirements for testing products that may have an intoxicating effect. Consumer testing has been a longstanding practice for beer, wine and spirits brands as well as for cigarettes.

When there is the possibility of intoxication, we use standard protocols that include: waiting periods, eating before and after and drinking plenty of liquids. Having a sensory testing partner with a deep understanding of both effective product testing—as well as regulatory mandates—will be increasingly vital as more new products enter the arena.

Curion also offers consumer insights research. Along with sensory testing, consumer insights data offer a wealth of information that can influence key decisions about: product readiness for launch, the consumer purchase decision process, market and demographic opportunity, packaging appeal, and how the brand performs against competition.

Cannabis may be an emerging category, but the competition for consumers is going to be fierce—especially when more big brands get into the game. Product testing not only mitigates failure, it taps the emotional and sensory brain of the consumer to create a compelling experience that helps a product stand out in a crowded marketplace.

About Curion Insights

Curion is a leader in sensory and consumer product research and serves Fortune 500 and other blue-chip customers in the food and beverage, personal care, fine fragrance, and home and fabric care industries.

In 2018 alone, the company hosted 97,000 test consumers in its facilities in California, Chicago, Dallas, and New Jersey. The result of a merger between Q Research Solutions and Tragon Corp., Curion brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the consumer and sensory science industry. The company pioneered many of the sensory methodologies considered industry standards today, including Quantitative Descriptive Analysis (QDA®) and Partnership Solutions (PS).

About Sean Bisceglia

Mr. Bisceglia served as an Operating Partner at Sterling Partners for two years before joining Curion Insights as CEO. Bisceglia’s business success began 25 years ago when he founded TFA, a technology-focused ad agency that achieved significant success. TFA was sold to Leo Burnett in 1998. Bisceglia then partnered with William Blair to acquire CPRI, where he doubled revenues in less than two years. In 2007, he founded TalentDrive, one of the first technology-enabled staffing businesses.

Cannabis Product Testing
Product testing will play an increasingly important role as the cannabis industry gains momentum
01 May 2019