Two entrepreneurs, Gregg Latterman and Dan Willoughby, loved pretzels and thought they could improve on the basic formula. They launched the Positive Pretzels™ brand in 2018 and were picked up by Whole Foods throughout the Midwest. Like many emerging brands, they bootstrapped the launch. To ensure that their organic, health-focused product had legs, they needed to take the next logical step — tap consumer insights. This involved sensory testing with a relevant sample of target consumers; people who shop for healthy, organic snacks at retail chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Fresh & Easy, for example. To help with this effort, they turned to sensory testing leader, Curion.
The origins of the pretzel industry
The pretzel has been a mainstay snack in the U.S. since the 1930s. But the origins of the pretzel are much older; the first version invented by an Italian monk in the year 610. The modern pretzel-making machine was introduced in Pennsylvania in 1935. Since then, with the exception of shape and texture (soft or hard), the pretzel has remained the same — yeast-risen, dough-dipped in a liquid wash of water and lye before baking. Actually, traditional pretzels are essentially refined carbohydrates that offer few nutritious benefits and an overdose of salt.
A healthy reinvention
Positive Pretzels™ markets their product as a healthier alternative, targeted at the “better for you” category. The goal was to have as few ingredients as possible and the best quality. Ingredients include organic flour, organic sunflower oil, sea salt and water. The brand is free from any artificial ingredients, with no added sugar or corn syrup.
Sensory testing with Curion’s eFive™
Positive Pretzels™ teamed up with eFive™, the sensory testing service designed by Curion specifically for emerging brands. At their Deerfield, Illinois test facility, consumers were drawn from Curion’s national database. In the test kitchen, bowls of pretzels were handed through sliding windows to consumers who sat in testing booths. Bowls of Positive Pretzels™ were rotated with bowls of competitor brands. Each batch of pretzels was numbered. Consumers were given salt-free crackers in between tastings to clean the palate.
eFive™ is designed to analyze consumer perceptions via the 5 senses: sight, smell, sound, touch and taste. Test subjects filled out questionnaires that sought to answer client questions such as:
- Sight — does the look of the packaging and the product make a pleasing first impression?
- This is key, because consumers often make assumptions about the brand based on the package and color of the actual product. For example, when sensory testing was done on Skittles®, subjects were confused when colors and flavors did not match up. So visual cues are key to overall “liking” of the product.
- Smell — Does the first whiff of the product transport the consumer to another time and place? If so, is the memory a good one?
- Aromas are used in product marketing to tempt busy shoppers. It’s critical that the brand get it right.
- Sound — In the case of a hard pretzel, does it make a fresh sounding crackle in the bag? And does it have a satisfying crunch when consumers break off a piece?
- The ‘snap’ is essential — unless you’re selling soft pretzels, anything bendy or limp could connote staleness
- Touch — Is the product packaging flimsy or does it have a quality feel? How does the pretzel feel to the touch? Is it greasy or clean and crisp?
- This is a key metric for both the packaging and the product. Consumers today want to make sure that packaging is recyclable and that the brand meets sustainability mandates
- Taste — Does the product have a pleasing mouth feel and flavor?
- Sensory testing enables brands to ensure that their claims — quality ingredients, organic, Non GMO and no artificial ingredients — are fulfilled through a satisfying taste.
eFive™ delivers for Positive Pretzels™
77 consumers participated in the test. According to partner, Gregg Latterman, who viewed the process, “We received results on how our product was rated compared to competitors. Consumers ranked us favorably for our natural ingredients, and the package and messaging also garnered high marks. Positive Pretzels™ is an organic product with all the relevant certifications. The brand was very well received by consumers seeking “good for you” snack products. We were also able to get some answers to questions such as:
- What sensory cues rise to the surface and how can they be used to market the product?
- Is there anything that falls short of expectations?
- How did Positive Pretzels™ do compared to other products in the test?
- Feedback on texture, shape, salt level, packaging and messaging
Sensory science is a research method that gathers and analyzes consumers’ responses to products that invoke the five human senses: taste, touch, sight, smell and sound. Through its offerings, eFive uses sensory science to reduce the risk of failure. For emerging brand owners like Gregg Latterman, eFive™ delivered the consumer insights with both speed and affordability so that he could take Positive Pretzels™ to the next level.
Curion is a full-service product and sensory insights firm. Curion mitigates risk of marketplace failure by ensuring that only products of quality and character will be introduced to the market, providing repeatable delight to consumers. This is accomplished with world-class people, sensory processes, facilities, and data insights. These insights provide a wealth of information such as: product readiness for launch, consumer purchase decision process, market and demographic opportunity, flavor and texture profiles, competitive landscape and more. Curion was formed with the merger of Q Research Solutions and Tragon Corp.
See how WGN television covered the Positive Pretzels™ eFive™ sensory test.