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On taste tests and primary research (redux)

Published September 11, 2016 by Mark Bodnar

I thought I'd repost (with updates) a note I wrote last year because I understand that the assignment it was written to support is back this term.  As always, although the tips herein are intended for a specific class, I suspect there may be broader value to all SFU researchers who are doing primary market research.  -- MB 
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I understand that a couple of our classes are going to be doing some primary consumer/market research this term in which they focus on taste tests.  

It's rare that I get a chance to blog about our many resources aimed at supporting primary research, so I thought I'd use this topic as an opportunity to riff a bit about the cool stuff available.  Even if your primary research has nothing to do with taste tests, you might find the following resources and search techniques useful.

1. Let's start with one of the odder resources: Marketing Scales Handbooks

Imagine for a second that you needed to ask your taste testers some questions and have them rank their answers on a scale (e..g, "On a scale of 1-7 where 7 equals "Heck, yes!", tell us how likely you would be to offer this banana bread to your grandmother.").  

You could, of course, come up with your own questions/scales -- and hope that they are unambiguous and not misleading, etc., or you could make use of the experience of the generations of researchers who have come before you.  

That is... you could check to see if a scale/question has already been created and used in academic research, and you could find out whether that scale ended up getting the results it was aiming for.  That's what the Marketing Scales Handbook series offers: the author has gone through major consumer/marketing journals for decades and extracted many of the scales, then listed each scale by topic, complete with details on their psychometric quality.  

Still with me?  Great!  So the short version is that if you need a scale (question with some form of a ranked answer) to measure things such as "Taste Evaluation" or "Product Evaluation (Food)", then these handbooks are for you.

SFU Library provides online access to volumes 4-8 of the MSH series, and we have volumes 1-4 in print format.  Sadly, you really do need to scan each volume as they report scales used in different years (e.g., Volume 8 covers studies published in 2012-2013), but that's still easier than going through thousands of studies!

2. Speaking of thousands of studies... PsycTESTS can also save you time & effort as you seek pre-written questions for your study.  Flyer (PDF) describing PsycTESTS, from the EBSCO site.

As discussed above, there's a good chance that other researchers have already developed and tested questionnaires to measure something close to what you are studying.  Where the MSH series allows you to drill down to the level of specific questions on your topic, PsycTESTS is more focused on complete questionnaires.  Need a Taste Preferences Measure or a Taste Preference Task?  Or maybe a Genetically Modified Banana Survey? Start with PsycTESTS!

3. But what about Business Source Complete!? 

Button for Business Source Complete

Of course Business Source Complete has much to offer as well!  Frequent BUEC Buzz readers will know that BSC is our go-to place for all aspects of business research. In this case, academic research articles can help in a few ways...

Both the methodology details and the results of such research articles could be useful for your study:

  • Do they define their variables in a way that will 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. (E.g., Do cultural or visual cues play a role in taste tests?)
  • Do they document methodological pitfalls to be aware of? 

Here are a few examples of articles that I found using terms such as "Consumers' preferences" "Food preferences" and "Taste" in BSC: 

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

(In fact, two of the three articles listed above from BSC are in Psychology journals.) Start with this search for Taste Perception and Consumer (in the Subject field).  That should uncover articles such as: 

5. 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

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?   (See the table of contents of this ebook to the right.) 

6. Framing the question

Research doesn't happen in a vacuum.  You will, of course, need to understand what other academics have done in the area (see all of the above), but you'll probably also want to see what else is known about the types of consumers, brands, and product types being studies... information that will help you understand where the gaps are and where your research fits.

a. Passport
You may already know that Passport offers country-level brandshare rankings and detailed data on consumption of many fast-moving consumer goods, but did you know that they also provide "analysis by flavour" and "ingredients by product" information for many foods? Try looking for the Ice Cream in Canada report or for the statistics available from a "ice cream" canada search.

b. Ipsos News Centre
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'll see the exact wording of the questions Ipsos used in their surveys -- yet another place to look for samples you can build on!

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 Enrollment sections.

Enough?  If not, ask!

-- MarkB
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Mark Bodnar
mbodnar@sfu.ca
Business & Economics Librarian

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