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Ingredients for successful taste tests + other primary market research

Published by Mark Bodnar

One of this fall's BUS 345 sections (D100) is going to be conducting some taste test experiments as they learn about primary market research. As is often the case, I see their assignment as an opportunity to highlight some powerful research resources available for all SFU researchers while also helping the BUS 345 students.

If you're in BUS 345 and doing a taste test assignment, start here for time-saving tips. If, on the other hand, you are doing any other sort of primary market research, still start here because there's a good chance these tips apply to your work as well.

1. Marketing Scales Handbooks & PsycTESTS to identify tried & tested questions

When you are running taste tests — or many other types of consumer research — you often need to ask people questions about their opinions, experiences, desires, and behaviours. Writing such questions is one of those tasks that seems simple at first, but can go badly wrong in many ways: if your questions aren't absolutely unambiguous and focused, your results may be nonsense, and your efforts may be wasted. 

Fortunately, other researchers with deep experience and expertise have developed, tested, and used questions to measure similar things, and you can build on their work (with proper citations, of course!). Research is all about incrementally (and ethically) building on the work of others to acquire new knowledge. 

But wait! There's more good news: other researchers have collected questions and surveys used in major journals and made them searchable, AND your friendly SFU Librarians have purchased those sources, AND I wrote a blog post all about them just a few weeks ago! Check it out: Don't reinvent the wheel: start with these sources when creating a new survey!

2. Business Source Complete to find similar studies you can learn from

Logo for Business Source Complete database

Just as you need to build on examples of study questions that others have developed, you can also get a head start on designing the rest of your study by reviewing past studies on similar topics or involving similar groups of consumers.

Both the methodology details and the results of past research articles might have useful lessons that you could apply in your own research: 

  • Do they define their variables in a way that might work for you?  
  • Do they use an imaginative study technique that you could replicate/repurpose?
  • Do they bring up other factors that you could be considering as part of your predictions. (For example, do cultural or visual cues play a role in taste tests?)
  • Do they document methodological pitfalls to be aware of? 

Business Source Complete (BSC) covers hundreds of scholarly business journals, including most major marketing journals. Here are a few examples of articles that I found using terms such as "Consumers' preferences" "Food preferences" and "Taste" in BSC: 

  Tip: You could, of course, run your own searches to find more articles of this sort, but exploring the cited & citing studies of any somewhat-relevant article (perhaps starting with the ones above!) can be a more efficient way to search. See my video on literature review search techniques in business to learn more about that powerful technique.

3. And, since marketing is partly a psychological field, it's always good to check PsycInfo as well.

Start with this search for Taste Perception and Consumer (in the Subject field).  That should uncover articles such as: 

4. OK, but libraries are full of books, too — are they there just to keep the building from floating away?  

Table of Contents of ebook: The sense and nonsense of consumer product testing. Some of the chapters are clearly about taste tests.

The books and ebooks in our collection tend to be on broader topics such as Marketing Research - Methodology  or Consumers - Research.  Even those books may help you understand how to analyze your data or frame your questions, but you may want to start by reading this ebook, which, despite the title, is actually almost completely about taste tests: The sense and nonsense of consumer product testing :how to identify whether consumers are blindly loyal? 

A few more ebooks that came up in my initial searches: 

5. Framing the research: what do we know already and therefore not need to spend resources studying further?

Research doesn't happen in a vacuum. You will, of course, need to understand what other academics have done on your specific topic (see all of the above), but you'll probably also want to see what else is known about the types of consumers, brands, and products being studied... information that will help you understand where the gaps are and what your research might add to the overall picture.

a. Passport
With its focus on fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs), Passport is a perfect place to look up brandshares, consumer trends, and sales trends for the food products you'll be testing. Try looking for the Ice Cream in Canada report or for the statistics available from an "ice cream" canada search to get a sense of what Passport offers. Bonus: did you know that Passport also provides "analysis by flavour" and "ingredients by product" information for some foods?

b. Ipsos, Angus Reid, Research Co. and other public opinion polling firms
This one is a bit hit-or-miss, but you may be able to find a detailed demographic breakdown of, for example, Canadian coffee & tea drinkers or PB&J eaters... plus you may see the exact wording of the questions polling companies have used in their surveys — yet another place to look for samples you can build on! Be sure to scroll to the bottom of any study summary you find to see if there is a link to Detailed Tables or a Full Report.

Samples of public opinion polling studies: 

c. SimplyAnalytics Canada
Did you run your study in a specific local neighbourhood or city?  Then you could use SimplyAnalytics to gather the corresponding census profile for comparison to your sample -- with data from either the most recent Statistics Canada census or from more recent Environics estimates.

d. Institutional Research & Planning
Ah... but maybe you did your taste test at a table in a hallway at SFU?  If you need the demographics of SFU students, then the IRP office is the absolute best (and maybe only) place to start! Try their Fingertip Statistics section first, but also try the Students, Department Profiles, and Enrolments sections.

e. Vividata
Do you need the demographics of people in Canada who report consuming specific product types?  And would you like to know what other products those same people consume, leisure activities they indulge in, and opinions they hold? Vividata is your source! It's a complex database to use, so be sure to use both the Intro and Advanced guides — you'll see links to those guides on your way into the database.

Enough?  If not, ask! We're here to help...

— MarkB

Mark Bodnar
Business & Economics Librarian

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