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Food Innovation

Kale’s not stale: profiling the superfood staple

October 11, 2017

Flavor profile of Kale using FlavorWiki technology.

A grandfather of “superfoods,” kale may seem to be a sleepy one (yeah yeah, we’ve all heard how great it is), but it’s a respected classic — a leafy green that continues to pull its weight alongside trendy superfoods like chia seeds, quinoa, hemp seeds, goji berries and pomegranate juice, and more common foods like salmon, broccoli and blueberries.


Now, before I go on, a little bit about superfoods. First, there is no official, standardized criteria for being branded a superfood, but the general idea is that it is a nutrient-rich food that may have some health benefits. Second, the internet is full of articles about a range of so-called superfoods claiming to prevent or cure diseases. However, the scientific evidence for these claims is often lacking and there is plenty of controversy associated with the term superfood (check out The Guardian’s article on the topic). Some government agencies have policies in place to protect against false claims — in the EU, products cannot claim to be superfoods unless they provide proof (BBC News). In the United States, the FTC stipulates that health claims in advertising also must be supported with solid proof.

It really is good for you

But. What everyone (I think) can agree on is the fact that purported superfoods do in fact have some solid nutrition that can make them good choices as part of a balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and veggies. Kale, for example, is a rich source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate and manganese, and is a good source of many other vitamins and minerals.

Kale is a member of the Brassica family (i.e., cabbage) with earthy, nutty, peppery, bitter and sour flavors. We tested some that was available at our local Coop retailer from the Betty Bossi brand.  You can see the profile in the image at the top of the blog, which was created in just one minute using FlavorWiki’s in home flavor profiling technology.  But this was just one type of Kale.  There are many different varieties, including the more readily available curly, Dinosaur (a.k.a. cavolo nero), Red Russian and redbor.

What to do with this popular green? David Lebovitz shared his recipe for roasted kale sprouts in his blog Living the Sweet Life in Paris. Jessica Merchant’s mouth-watering recipe for nutty harvest honeycrisp kale salad appears in her blog How Sweet it Is. Or you could try a kale taco salad courtesy of What’s Gaby Cooking. If you like it hot, Saveur’s spicy braised kale recipe will curl your leaves.

Eat your greens!


Food Innovation

Concocted to last: Brands that stand the test of time

September 9, 2017

One of my favorite cereals, Cheerios, has been around since 1941. Like Cheerios, there are a number of food and beverage products that have stood the test of time — Jim Beam (since 1795!), Jell-O, Pepsi-Cola, Coca-Cola, and Kellogg’s Raisin Bran has been around for over 70 years and ranks as one of the top 10 breakfast cereals. But there are many, many products that have simply fallen flat.

In a recent post, we talked about some pretty staggering food industry statistics. Of the roughly 20,000 new food and beverage products introduced annually, a mere 15 percent stay on the market for at least two years. The rest quickly encounter a rather tragic fate.


The International Food Information Council says that taste is the number one driver of purchase decisions. Of course, no matter how amazing a food tastes and no matter how much it resonates with consumers’ needs, you can’t sell it if people don’t know about it. Good branding and marketing is essential. In the end, people buy not just the product but the packaging too — and by “packaging” I mean the emotions, memories and experiences associated with the product, as well as the wrapper and the label. They are, in effect, buying a brand.

Our perception of taste is influenced by our emotions, memories and experiences.

Wrapped up in this “package” is our perception of taste, influenced by our emotions, memories and experiences. My love of Cheerios could very well be because, when I’ve got a bowl of them in front of me, I am six years old again, sitting beside my brother at our black-trimmed dining table, my mom in the kitchen packing our lunches for school. My world is at peace.

Don’t mess with a good thing

This interplay of taste and emotions, memories and experiences might well have been what led to the outcry from Coca-Cola (Coke) consumers, when in 1985, the Coca-Cola Company changed the taste of Coke. Unhappy with the new formula, consumers protested loudly with over 40,000 phone calls and letters to the company and some people even taking to the streets to publicly protest. Changing the flavor of the soda meant, for many customers, severing a relationship they had with “their” brand.

Changing the flavor of the soda meant, for many customers, severing a relationship they had with “their” brand.

Within three months, Coke Classic was revived and peace was restored in cola land. And there was an unexpected bonus for the Coca-Cola Company — after the return of Coke Classic, sales climbed. The customer complaints had become an incredibly valuable consumer insight. Today, Coke is the fifth most valuable brand, according to Forbes.

A package deal

We love certain foods and brands because of the way they make us feel. Are you eating that cheesecake because it reminds you of the one Grandma used to make for your birthday every year? Does your morning coffee taste good only if you’re drinking it from your favorite mug? Mine sure does.

Killer cheesecake recipe here.

FlavorWiki Tasting

TASTE THIS! A Kickstart tasters guide

September 7, 2017

Dear Kickstart Tasters,

Thanks for joining us at the Kickstart opening dinner party! We hope you enjoy trying our tasting prototype and sampling the awesome drinks. Thanks to digitalswitzerland and Kickstart Accelerator for sponsoring this great event and amazing experience here in Zurich.

Below are the drinks and the flavor descriptors that you will be evaluating. Definitions of the descriptors are given in case you have questions about their meanings. We’ve also included some information about the products themselves.

Also, don’t forget to enter your email address when asked to do so in the survey so we can send you your personal results. And check back here on our blog where we will publish the group results.

Thanks again, and happy tasting!


Flavor Descriptors

Fruity The perception of fruit (these might be citrus, orange, grapefruit, lemon, tangerine, lime, etc.). Descriptor used in the beer, wines, sodas and teas.

Spice Reminiscent of various spices such as black pepper and cinnamon. Descriptor used in the beer and wines.

Earthy Reminiscent of earth, such as forest floor or mushrooms. Descriptor used in the beer and wines.

Bitter Sharp, pungent. Descriptor used in the beer, wines, sodas and teas.

Sweet Sugar, honey or “fresh.” Descriptor used in the sodas and teas.

Herbal Reminiscent of herbs. Descriptor used in the beer, sodas and teas.

Floral Reminiscent of flowers or floral aromas. Descriptor used in wines, sodas and teas.

Product Information

Soda: Gazosa. A refreshing and fizzy vegan soft drink.

Tea: ChariTea. Organic and fair-trade tea drinks.

Prosecco: Prosecco Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG

White Wine: Riesling x Madeleine Royale

Red Wine: Samsara

Beer: Docteur Gab’s

Food Innovation

Shaking up the food innovation process

July 20, 2017

Ginger sweet potato chips, melon water, wasabi ranch green pea crisps. Did you ever wonder who comes up with new products like these? Personally, I’d like to know whose fantastic idea it was to combine salt and caramel. Yum! New food innovations are hitting the market rapidly and regularly. In 2016, over 21,000 new food products were introduced (USDA) — that’s about 60 new products per day, and that’s just in the United States!

But most of these new products don’t survive, and the kicker is, this is a widely known and accepted fate in the food industry. Why? Let’s first take a look at the food innovation process.

Food innovation in a nutshell

The food innovation process really depends on the food producer. Large CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies have their own internal processes, but generally they all follow a similar set of steps. The first priority is identifying the market demand and trying to determine what consumers are hungry for. Based on this, in-house food developers and food scientists then come up with new product ideas, which are brought to life in a lab (Kellogg’s published a great interview with three of its food developers about their new-product-development process.) Samples of the “beta” product are created and tested by the developer, over and over again. According to Bloomberg’s Vanessa Wong, “The typical product goes through about 100 iterations by the time it is launched” (3 ways food-related companies get new product ideas). Eventually prototypes are tested by consumers in focus groups and in stores; theoretical online polls are done (posing questions like, e.g., Would you buy this product?); in-home use tests (IHUTs) are performed; and finally a refined version of the product goes back to focus groups for more testing. When the product reaches the final stages of development and the optimal flavor has been identified, Nielsen’s BASES I and BASES II sales forecasting tools are used to ultimately determine the fate of the product.

From inception to production, the entire product development process can take up to two years, with three to four months dedicated to testing. Internal research costs for the testing range from $50,000 to $200,000 — even higher when you take into account overhead costs such as wages. And then there are the tens of millions of dollars spent by big CPGs (in the United States) to market a single new product. This massive investment would not be so shocking were it not for the fact that, according to Nielsen, 85 percent of new consumer packaged goods fail within two years in the marketplace. Companies are essentially wasting much of the tens of billions of dollars spent annually in the United States on marketing, loyalty programs and advertising.  

“Internal research costs for the testing range from $50,000 to $200,000.”

With so much testing and investing, how is it possible that new products have such a low success rate?

Why isn’t it working?

Well, we have a theory, and it’s actually fairly simple. According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, year after year, taste continues to be the number one driver of purchase decisions (2017 Food & Health Survey, “A Healthy Perspective: Understanding American Food Values”). Yes, the tests performed by CPGs in the product development phase are indeed capturing whether the test consumers like or don’t like product X, but this data neither converts to other consumers nor provides any insight into why a person likes or dislikes a particular food. They are missing the critical piece: determining the flavors and tastes that consumers actually want. It’s not about liking, it’s about preferences. I like both peaches and nectarines, but I prefer peaches. It’s this level of detail that hasn’t yet made it into the food innovation process.

“Year after year, taste continues to be the number one driver of purchase decisions.”

Enter FlavorWiki

With this in mind, FlavorWiki set out to change the landscape of food innovation. We developed a tool with an intuitive feedback interface backed up by proprietary algorithms that help everyday consumers define their personal optimal flavor or taste profile for a product — meaning, we can pinpoint the exact flavor note intensities that will result in the best-tasting product from the point of view of the relevant market’s taste perception. And as we know, the best-tasting product is the best-selling product.

How do we do this? By engaging directly with consumers and using our technology to accurately identify their flavor preferences. For example, we’re currently using our technology to test different ice creams. Consumers simply taste one of the selected brands and complete a five-minute online survey. The questions are simple (so no training required) and enable the consumers to compare the flavor notes in the ice cream. Our algorithms convert the answers into a taste profile that is used to determine the optimal taste of the ice cream. So, food producers then learn exactly what their consumers want, and consumers get to influence the food innovation process. Win – win!

Unlike traditional product development results, FlavorWiki data is standardized, which means we can compare results across brands. FlavorWiki essentially expedites the flavor-profiling stages of the process and provides an accurate taste profile for a fraction of the cost of the traditional profiling method. Not only that, turnaround time is a mere two to 10 days, which means products can reach the market faster than ever before. We can do a test as fast as a consumer can eat, and get results in real-time.

Successful food innovation

As it turns out, the idea that spawned the recent salt and caramel trend came from French pastry chef Pierre Hermé who developed a salted caramel macaron (NY Times). Food Nouveau blogger Marie has adapted Hermé’s recipe for these delicious little bites.

In this post, we’ve focused on product development and innovation. Stay tuned for future posts about how we apply FlavorWiki technology for consumer insights, marketing relevance and more!


“Flavorwiki: Can We Use the Internet to Understand User’s Taste Preferences?” by Cristina Leonhardt (Sra. Inovadeira)
“Product: In Home Use Test – IHUT – What’s it all About?”
Winning with Innovation: An Introduction to BASES