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How to Determine What Makes Your Wine Region Unique

Based on requests from clients, there is a growing interest to understand what makes a micro wine region unique from a sensory perspective. The main reasons cited were

  • Educating consumers and buyers on what they can expect from the region
  • Directing the winemaking practices that are best suited to the potential of the grapes

The goal of the exercise will drive the sensory evaluation approach. In the often repeated words of our Managing Director – Dr Leanie Louw:

The result of a sensory test is only as good as the panel that you use and the questions that you ask.

With this in mind we strongly caution against trying to glean this information from an informal benchtop tasting resulting in inconsistent tasting notes and biased discussions. There are much more powerful and effective tools available that doesn’t break the bank and the costs of which can easily be split among participating wineries.

With a well thought out experiment design, sensory best practices and a suitable tasting panel one can generate reliable outcomes with the necessary gravitas that will answer the question asked.

Some notes on panel choices

The decision of which panel to use depends on the desired outcome. The two options available are trained sensory panels and wine professional panels. Here’s how we used the two panels to profile micro wine routes.

Trained sensory panel for wine marketing purposes

In one case where the information was specifically going to be used to educate consumers, we decided to go with a trained sensory panel. The reason for this was that a non-industry professional trained panel typically uses a lexicon that are more easily understood by untrained consumers. Furthermore, because the trained panellists use descriptors in exactly the same way, it was easier to identify those individual descriptors that are more commonly used to describe wines from the region.

Wine professional panel for strategic winemaking decisions

In another case that had a more strategic objective, we used a panel of winemakers and wine professionals to evaluate the wines according to a very specific sensory evaluation methodology that expressly allows for the fact that wine experts don’t always have agreement on how wine descriptors are used. Using this approach we could communicate the factors behind the uniqueness of the region using terms that are more conceptual and encompassing than what a trained panellist would typically use, for example “integration.” These help winemakers to make strategic decisions based on concepts that they are very familiar with.

Contact us for assistance in profiling your wine region



Small Businesses Should Invest In Consumer Research Too – What’s Stopping Them And How To Change That

Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises, or SMMEs, are important. In the USA, SMMEs create roughly 30% of nett new jobs and account for about 40% of economic activity. Only half of US small businesses make it through their first five years. In South Africa, the outlook is even worse: 70% of businesses fail within their first two years. (Luckily SenseLab is part of the remaining 30% – phew!). In the USA, the number one cause of business failure is that there weren’t a market for the product or service. What we can take out from that is that connecting with your consumer or customer from the get-go is an important strategy for creating a sustainable business.

The main challenges for SMMEs

  • Engaging in a consumer-centric business models by understanding consumers’ unmet needs
  • Building a sustainable business by reacting to those unmet needs with a product that their consumers will love

But what is keeping SMMEs from taking this approach to creating a business that works?

Looking at the SA alcoholic beverage industry as a case study

There are just over 400 wine cellars in South Africa. 45% of those contribute to only 10% of the total annual harvest. What’s more, only 15% of wine cellars in South Africa make a sustainable profit.

In the same vein, there are over 700 craft beer products on the market that competes for less than 1% of the total beer market.

In both the cases of wine and beer, we see many small businesses competing for a small bite of a massive and oversaturated market – and are struggling to survive.

Understanding the consumer plays a pivotal role in survival – what’s keeping SMMEs from using this approach?

There are a number of barriers that prevents SMMEs in the liquor industry from engaging in consumer research:

  • Lack of awareness
  • Perception that it is unnecessary
  • Cost prohibitive
  • Scope not aligned with research budget
  • Perception that it won’t be helpful
  • The timing is wrong

Let’s unpack these one by one

Lack of awareness

Perhaps the biggest challenge is that many small companies are unaware of:

  • The existence of formal consumer and sensory research
  • The value that it can add to their business and product development process

Without a clear view of the benefits to them, they are unlikely to spend on consumer research. The solution is that experts must communicate the tangible value (what problems can consumer research solve) on technical and social platforms. Clients must understand exactly what the can (and cannot) get from formal consumer research.

Perception that consumer research won’t be helpful

These are some very real comments that I have heard from small businesses regarding why they do not invest in consumer research. It can be sectioned into two belief systems: “I know better” and “I don’t trust it.” If a belief is very much ingrained, it is hard to change that belief. However, only target market consumers can tell you what they want – and you have to be very sure that your preferences and perceptions are aligned with that of your consumers if you’re going to take this attitude towards meeting consumers’ unmet needs.


Perception that consumer research is not necessary

As for the lack of trust. Yes, there is always a risk that your product will fail, no matter what you do. But if consumer research has failed you in the past, you have to ask yourself whether you have reacted to the voice of the consumer in the right way. This always makes me think of the very first case of consumer research that I was involved in. The company wanted to introduce a new product aimed at young black male consumers. The product tested very well and it was decided to go ahead with the launch. However, the advertising material was doing anything but speaking to the target market tested in the consumer research – very poor execution of the learnings from the research – and unsurprisingly the product failed.

Consumer research is cost-prohibitive

Many food start-ups simply do not have the cashflow to invest in proper consumer research. Sadly, I see many such cases in the alcoholic beverage industry where there is a lot of scope for innovation, but also lots of room for failure. As service providers, we must have options available that fit a tighter budget. Sometimes 80% of an answer is better than no answer.

Some indicate that when they have established their business and reached a certain threshold that they will look into investing in consumer research – but they need to know exactly where the funds are going to and what they will get for their money. We need to be clear and transparent about how different testing parameters impact on cost. And more importantly, we have to be honest and realistic about when the cost outweighs the benefits.

The scope and budget is mis-aligned

Sometimes there is interest in understanding the underlying factors that drive purchasing behaviour but the client struggles to refine their thoughts to a concept that can be measured within a reasonable budget. In this case, we need to phase the project by starting with the most important questions that can provide actionable insights that is within the immediate budget.

In another case the client might define the target market so minutely that it becomes impossible to recruit cost-efficiently. We need to determine the customer’s recruiting budget and recruit accordingly as close as possible to the original requirement.

It won’t be helpful

This is especially relevant to the wine industry. Smaller producers may feel that they have limited variety of product inputs therefore limited options for product development changes post research.

However, great taste is such a big driver of purchasing behaviour that it doesn’t make sense not to involve the voice of the consumer.

Using  a method like CATA with consumers can identify how the current product compares to an ideal product and where the current product is being penalized. An attribute that is unavoidable given the cellar/vineyard restrictions might not be penalizing at all.

The final step is partnering with knowledgeable viticulturists and oenologists to provide expert guidance in product optimisation now that the winery has a clear view of which attributes are required and more importantly which attributes should be eliminated.

The timing is wrong

SMMEs can get a new product to market faster than larger food companies due to fewer check points. Consumer research is one of these check points and it is tempting to skip this phase when they already trust their gut. By reducing the scope of the consumer research study lead times can be shortened for a rapid response. Providing topline results as early as possible can help decision makers to move forward more quickly in some cases.

The researcher’s responsibility

The SO-WHAT and WHAT NOW of a consumer research study need to be clear – and this can only be clear if we ask the consumers the right questions.

It is our responsibility to convince SMME clients that listening to consumers will help them profit in the long run and to guide them through the process so that they get the value that they are paying for. And this is SenseLab’s quality promise.

Invest in your business success – Contact us to enquire about consumer research

A Brief View of Consumer Trends for 2020 and Beyond

We have looked at consumer mega trend reports for 2020 and beyond that were published by Euromonitor, Mintel, and Synergy. Here are our key take-outs.

Consumers are taking a more holistic approach to wellness. They are looking for products with specific functional benefits. They are buying to obtain a specific outcome (e.g. anxiety relief) as opposed to buying specific ingredients. Furthermore, there is a need for bespoke solutions that enhances life and provides long-term health growth. There is a stronger emphasis on prioritising mental health which is becoming less and less stigmatised. As a result, consumers are engaging in mindfulness and finding relaxation and stress relief in natural ways as opposed to e.g. alcohol and cigarettes. This has resulted in strong growth in non-alcoholic spirt products. Consumers are also moving towards plant-based nutrition with many consumers adopting a flexitarian lifestyle by cutting out meat and steering towards clean labels, positive nutrition, and complete nutrition meal replacements and supplements.

Consumers are reducing waste. Consumers are changing their behaviour to move towards a waste-free future. Recycling is no longer enough – many consumers are re-using, repairing and sharing or renting products as well as buying second-hand. The sharing economy has moved beyond economic benefits to social and environmental benefits. Consumers are spending mindfully and buying better – changing their spending habits today to result in a better future tomorrow.

In an adjacent trend, there is a demand for longevity – consumers are buying fewer but higher quality, more durable and functional products, which has resulted in growth in the luxury goods market.

A persistent trend is that consumers are valuing local businesses and products and take pride in buying local as they desire to be more authentic and individualistic. Companies are pushed to provide goods that are tailored to local preferences.

Consumers are putting more pressure on brands and companies to be more inclusive and ethical. There is a call for companies to prioritise people and planet over profit. There is an increase in lack of trust in brands. Brands and companies must support and stand for causes that their consumers believe in. As consumers take a more fluid approach to their identity, brands must speak more to inclusivity and authenticity while providing tailored offerings. Companies must look beyond the functional to emotional benefits for their consumers.

Experience is still a big driver for consumers, and they are taking a more holistic approach. Brands that have a point of differentiation can build a strong connection with their consumers. As consumers experience more and more stress and uncertainty, brands that offer support through experience and escapism are also appreciated. Consumers want to be enriched in a way that matters to them. Consumers are seeking comfort and security which drives a need for nostalgia. Brand creativity is valued as consumers engage with craft and artisanal products, cross-category innovations and novel food attributes. In terms of messaging and communication, consumers are more likely to engage with quick and concise multisensory messaging that provides instant gratification.

As consumer-pull business models are often more successful than market-push, it is vital that companies take consumer needs to heart albeit through innovation or consumer engagement.

View our services or contact us for a free consultation.

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6 Cases in which sensory problem solving was a good idea

Sensory problem solving is our theme for 2020. Entering our third year of business, we’d like to review some of the problems that our clients have brought to our lab.

Bottle variation in the wine industry

We’ve encountered this problem several times. Buyers commented that our clients’ batches showed bottle variation. This is an excellent example of when using an independent service provider is the best bet. Using scientifically sound methodologies, we were able to prove whether the bottle variation existed or not. In one scenario it was a case of switching to a different cork that brought about subtle changes and, in another case, the suspected bottle variation could not be detected at a statistically significant level by our panel. In both cases, empirical evidence was now available to facilitate a discussion between the buyer and the winery.

Mitigating risk in recipe changes

One of our clients had to make a small recipe change for a massive brand. While the change was small, the risk of regular consumers picking up the difference and subsequently switching to another brand was massive. Investing in an independent sensory test is small change relative to the damage that could be done by putting a sub-par or noticeably different product on the market.

Quality control

Another client thought that they detected a defect in one of their batches but couldn’t reach internal consensus. They submitted their samples for independent sensory testing and the results showed that the batch was different from the standard and they were able to make a decision regarding batch recall.

Delivering on a product’s quality promise

A client had a product with a sensory call-out on the label. Some consumers complained that the attribute that was called out was not as prominent in the product as what they were used to. Using a descriptive test comparing three batches we were able to determine whether the intensity of the call-out attribute was strong enough.

Entering a new market

One of our clients developed a product aimed at a market segment that they weren’t playing in at the time. They wanted to make sure that their product delivered on the same level of quality as the main competitors and if not, how they could improve. Using sensory benchmarking, we were able to compare how their prototype fitted into the existing sensory landscape and to provide guidelines for delivering up to expectations.

In a similar situation as the bottle variation example, one of our client’s wanted to solve a dispute between a raw material supplier and a buyer. An independent opinion regarding the acceptability of the raw material was the only way of find a solution to the problem.

We’re excited to see how we can solve your sensory problems this year.

Smelling With Your Eyes: How Visual Bias Affects Wine Odour Perception

During wine tasting, it’s easy enough to decide whether you like a wine or not. When it comes deciding whether the wine’s bouquet is reminiscent of gravel or puppy breath, a lot of folks would rather leave it up to the experts. While we certainly differ in our inherent ability to smell, the mechanisms behind odour identification suggest that the wine tasting playing field might be more level that we think.

Let’s put the theory to the test

Close your eyes and imagine your favourite Sauvignon blanc wine. Perhaps it has delicate green hues with fresh asparagus notes, hints of lime and a crisp acidity. If you were asked to imagine a glass of Pinotage, you might have conjured a deep red wine with the aroma of ripe dark plums, followed by smoky, mocha finish.

Reds and whites are as different as chalk and cheese…or are they?

With such wildly different aroma and taste profiles, you would imagine it to be easy to pick out the difference between a Pinotage and a Sauvignon blanc blindfolded. Yet, if asked to identify the colour of a wine solely based on what it smells like, the odds of giving a correct answer is pretty close to chance. Then why do we use such different words to describe red and white wines when we taste wine? Is it possible that we are not, in fact, describing the wine’s bouquet, but merely its colour?

It’s a matter of colour-odour congruency

We tend to describe what we smell in wine, using words of objects that are congruent with the colour of the wine. Asparagus for Sauvignon blanc, butterscotch for Chardonnay and dark plums for Pinotage. Even describing a brown hued wine as matured is congruent with our knowledge of the pigmentation changes that occur chemically during the maturation process.

In our minds, odours are seen as objects

The reason behind this phenomenon is that the process in our brain that is responsible for odour identification actually has less to do with our sense of smell than you would think. The main part of the brain that lights up during high level odour processing is the primary visual cortex which has very little to do with olfaction and everything to do with generating mental images and identifying objects. In very simple terms, our noses are fairly good at detecting a smell, but when it comes to identifying the smell, it hands over the job to our eyes. Furthermore, when we are able to see what we smell, our brains are primed to make colour congruent associations.

Don’t fire your nose just yet

The only way of getting around this very powerful perceptual illusion is to make non-visual associations with specific aromas. This principle is used during the training of descriptive sensory panels where tasters are trained to recognise specific smells without any visual cues. Even so, panellists still revert to non-colour associated imaging when describing smells such as fuzzy, flat or sticky.

The most important question is this: If your favourite Sauvignon blanc was described differently, would it be less yummy

Sensory Panels: How Much Should You Tell Them?

I had a very interesting conversation with one of my sensory panellists. She has been on my panel since I started my career as a sensory panel leader and serves on a number of sensory panels. A career sensory panellist, if you will. She told me that she could tell that the differences between the products that she had to taste was not that large and she was afraid of finding differences that didn’t exist.

Before I started the project, I toyed with the idea of telling my panellists what I expected in terms of the differences between the products and have decided not to. The rule of thumb in sensory evaluation is to share as little information as possible in order to avoid bias. But what if a little bit of information can break false assumptions about the products?

I have investigated the effect of divulging product information to sensory panellists before a tasting as part of my PhD research. I was working on rapid sensory profiling of high alcohol beverages and in one part of my study I tested whether prior information about the alcohol content of a product set could influence the way that the panellists evaluated the samples. While my sample was quite small and the results were only indicative, I found that the information that the panel received about the products did influence their evaluation. For example, when they thought the product had a high alcohol content, they put more emphasis on terms that relates to alcohol content e.g. alcohol burn. (1)

Another example of assumptions that panellists make when evaluating a product is their responses in a difference test. The nature of the test is to test for differences, so the assumption that many panellists make is that the difference must be perceivable. In my experience, in a difference from control test, new panellists often show a left skew in their data because they rate differences to be larger than they actually are. That’s why I always insert a blind control. And don’t get me started on triangle tests and panellists insisting that we got the sample coding wrong because they could “definitely taste the difference!”

So where does that leave us? I believe that it is okay to share information if you run a risk of bias due to incorrect assumptions. While I don’t think it is possible to pre-empt every single possible assumption that your panellists may make, it’s a good idea to put yourself in your panellists’ shoes when you plan your project. The information that you give your panellists can influence your results just as much as the instruction on your ballot.

Defining Wine Mouthfeel

Mouthfeel is paramount in the assessment of wine quality. It is one of the last aspects perceived during the wine tasting process and can mean the difference between a good wine and a great wine. Wine mouthfeel is mostly a tactile sensation. Mouthfeel is made up of several distinct factors: fullness, smoothness or roughness, particularity, oral dynamics, irritation or heat, mouthcoating, dryness, and length. In the case of particularity, wine is evaluated for the sensation of particles being present e.g. the sensation of talc vs. chalk. Oral dynamics is a very interesting concept which describes how your lips and cheeks move on account of the astringency of the wine. Do your cheeks pucker or is there as sensation of adhesiveness between your lips and gums?

Astringency in wine

Astringency, which is a combination of the mouthfeel factors defined previously, is an important part of the mouthfeel perception in red wine. The common theory for the perception of astringency in wine is that the tannins in wine bind with the protein compounds in saliva. This causes the saliva to precipitate and leaves our oral tissues unlubricated, thereby causing the rough sensation. However, scientists agree that this is by no means the only way in which astringency is perceived. The exact combination of chemosensory, somatosensory, and mechanoreception in the perception of astringency in wine mouthfeel is yet to be scientifically pinpointed. The perception of astringency also differs from person to person. Number of taste buds, speed of salivary flow, and age all impact on the perception of astringency. The type of acids in white wine e.g. tartaric acid or malic acid also affects the extent to which tannins bind with salivary proteins thereby impacting on the perception of dryness and astringency.

The perception of body

Perceived viscosity or body in wine is largely influenced by the physical viscosity of the liquid. However, pH also influences the perception of viscosity, especially in white wines. This is partly due to a structural change that occur in polysaccharides at high pH which increases the perceived viscosity of the wine. Polysaccharides occur in white wine due to the breakdown of yeast cells toward the end of fermentation or during extended yeast lees contact. Wines made in this style often have more body.

Sweetness due to sugar content or even glycerol content also modulates the perception of body in wine where wines that are sweeter has more body. Glycerol, which occurs abundantly in white wine, is naturally very viscous and one would think that increased levels of glycerol would impact on the viscosity of wine. However, any perceived effect is likely due to the perceived sweetness of glycerol and not its physical viscosity.

The effect of alcohol content on wine mouthfeel

Alcohol content is a big contributor to mouthfeel sensations, impacting on the perception of heat, dryness, and body. There are many theories as to how ethanol affects astringency. Some scientists have found that increased ethanol prevents the de-lubrication effect of tannins while others suggest that it does not affect the total perception of astringency but rather modulates the qualitative perception e.g. velvety as opposed to grippy and coarse.

Which is better?

A wine with intense mouthfeel is often described as big. Is a big wine better? That depends. Often in wine shows, bigger wines perform better than leaner wines. This is partly because wines with less intense mouthfeel can appear insipid when they are tasted directly after a big wine. Many wine critics also have a penchant for big wines nowadays. However, when it comes to drinking wine in social settings, a less intense wine is easier to drink leading to increased volumes sold. It really depends on what the winemaker is aiming for i.e. a show wine or a scale wine. There is certainly room for both. Of course, wines from some varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, are expected to be big whereas other varietals such as Pinot Noir are expected to be more delicate.

Evaluating mouthfeel in wine

Your wine tasting technique will affect how you perceive mouthfeel. A small sip will not allow you to perceive all the mouthfeel sensations, while keeping the wine in your mouth for too long will cause sensory overload. There is no golden recipe for evaluating wine mouthfeel, but there are a few guidelines that you can follow. The important thing is that you taste all the wines in your flight in the same way. If you’re going to swirl vigorously, you must apply the same technique to all the wines. It is also worth it to allow enough tme between wines to ensure that most of the astringent perceptions have disappeared. It is better to take more than one sip when tasting. With the first sip, focus on the palate weight, smoothness, particularity, and mouthcoating effects. With the second sip, you can focus on heat, oral dynamics, dryness and length.


Three Causes of Bottle Variation

We have received quite a few problem solving requests regarding bottle variation since we’ve opened our doors in February. This phenomenon causes significant concern, even if the difference between the bottles is not significantly perceivable under laboratory conditions.

What causes bottle variation?

There are several factors that influence the occurrence of bottle variation, but I’m going to focus on three.

Oxygen exposure

Wines with cork closures are expected to show some level of bottle variation especially after some ageing. Cork is a natural product and variation in oxygen transmission rates can be expected. However, these differences should be subtle. In some cases, the level of oxygen exposure can be so severe that it is detrimental to the wine’s sensory profile which can lead to lower repurchase rates.

Cork suppliers

Using different cork suppliers for the same wine can also result in bottle variation. Some believe that using different suppliers for the same wine comes down to not keeping your eggs in one basket – a strategy to play it safe in terms of cork taint. However, we have seen that differences between different cork suppliers can be perceived by extremely sensitive tasters, even if it’s not at a statistically significant level at a group level. If you know your cork suppliers’ products really well, this is can be a good risk-avoidance strategy in dealing with cork taint. The fall-out from cork taint is after all more severe than that of bottle variation. However, there will be a small risk of bottle variation.

Storage conditions

Studies have shown that storing wine at different storage conditions have a significant effect on the wines’ sensory profiles. In fact, storage temperature has a much greater effect on the stability of a wine’s sensory profile than differences between closures. Closely related to the sensory profiles of wine, it was also found that the wines’ volatile, polyphenol, tannin and anthocyanin composition was also affect significantly by storage temperature. Perhaps more importantly, fluctuating storage temperatures have a much greater effect than wines that were stored at a stable high temperature.

Sensory tests to determine whether bottle variation is significant

To determine whether bottle variation can be picked up by the average consumer, the best strategy is to do a difference test. There are many options.

Triangle test

The most common test is a triangle test where panellists are given three products of which two are from the same bottle and one is from a different bottle. The panellists are asked to identify the odd one out. If enough panellists can recognize the odd sample, the perceivable difference is said to be significant.

Difference from Control test (DFC)

Another option is a DFC test. In this case, the panellists are given a reference sample, a blind control and a test sample and are asked to rate the blind control and the test sample in terms of how much they differ from the reference sample. One of the pro’s of this test is that it gives you the degree of difference. E.g. if a difference can be perceived, how large is the difference and is it still acceptable?

If you have an issue with bottle variation you can send your request to SenseLab at info@senselab.co.za


Benchmarking Your Wine

Feedback from the SASEV Conference workshop on all things sensory

I was invited to talk about benchmarking wine at the SASEV conference workshop on rapid sensory profiling methods on 2 October at the NH Charles Hotel in Somerset West. Having loads of experience in benchmarking wine since the start of my career as a sensory scientist in 2007, I had loads to share.

Jeanne Brand from the Stellenbosch University covered the technical aspects of rapid sensory profiling (which happens to be SenseLab’s strong suit and the reason why we can offer benchmarking exercises at an affordable price). With the technical aspects already covered, I approached my talk as a story telling experience during which I shared my experiences with benchmarking wine over the past decade.

Why benchmark your wine?

There are numerous reasons why a wine producer would want to benchmark their wine, but I focussed on four key reasons:

  • Penetrating new markets
  • Gaining product knowledge and confidence in sales
  • Understanding why your brand under performs
  • Positioning your brand in a new price category

Why Now?

  • Vine yields have been low for the past few vintages and there is a shortage in wine supply. It is therefore all the more important to have the right wine on the shelf.
  • Consumers are feeling the pinch in their pocket and want value for their money – whether they are buying an entry-level wine or an iconic wine. It is the wine producer’s responsibility to deliver on their quality promise
  • Recent advances in sensory science has made it possible to customize benchmarking exercises with cost-efficient methodologies

Why descriptive analysis is better than bench-top tastings

Of course you can line up a set of wines on a bench in your cellar and taste them blind, making some comments and perhaps give a quality score. This is good for a rough idea of what’s going on. But how are you going to compile visualize the data to get a clear view of what’s happening in the category that you’re looking at? There will always be bias, even though you taste blind – think serving order effects and the cellar palate phenomenon just to name a few examples of bias.

With descriptive analysis – albeit conventional or rapid – you have different tools for different levels of detail and cost efficiency. You can visualize your data and overlay other data such as sales volumes, price point, and chemical data. You simply get a lot more out of your efforts.

Time for story-telling

Penetrating new markets

In the first case that I have worked on, the client wanted to penetrate three international markets. At that point their wine was already on the shelf but sales were slow. The client decided to choose a selection of wines in the same price category that had the most sales to compare with their wine. They tested their brand with two varietals. In all six cases their wine was more green and savoury compared to the competitor products. The sensory attributes that differentiated their brand from the rest of the wines could be traced back to vineyard practices and oak maturation. The client made adjustments to their canopy management regime and with regular sense-checks they managed to track their performance until they reached the desired wine style that drove volumes in the respective markets that they tested in.

Product knowledge and confidence

See our post on the Product Confidence case study

Understanding why your brand under performs

There are several reasons why a brand can under perform – poor distribution, lack of or improper advertising or marketing, issues with price point or…your wine may simply  not deliver on consumers likes and expectations. In today’s economic climate it is unwise to keep SKUs that under performs, but first you need to understand WHY.

If it is a taste issue, a sensory benchmarking will be able to point you in the right direction. A direct comparison with category champions in the same price range will quickly tell you whether your wine stacks up against its competitors. If you have comparable taste profiles, you maybe have to look at other factors. If you don’t – do you need to improve on quality or can you sell your differentiating wine as a unique selling point? Your choice.

If you are really serious in understanding why your brand is not doing as well as it should, consumer research may be the answer. Different target markets have different preferences for wine and it is important to understand who likes your wine and why but also who dislikes your wine and why. Often it is the anti-drivers of liking that plays a more important role than drivers of liking. If you have limited options in changing your wine’s intrinsic – you need to find the target market that will like your profile and sell to them instead of taking a shotgun approach

Positioning your brand in a new price category

One of my clients performed very well in the BIB market but wanted to penetrate the premium bottled wine market. This was an easy exercise. We took the market leaders in the category and benchmarked it against a blend that our client wanted to use for this aim. We were able to identify the differences between our client’s blends and the market leader as well as strategies for creating a blend that would match the market leader’s sensory profile.

A final note

My final words were on why you should  use an independent service provider – like SenseLab – for your benchmarking studies. I have compiled this pitch in a separate post and you can read about why you need an independent service provider here.



Why Use An Independent Service Provider for Wine Sensory Benchmarking

When I pitch for benchmarking projects with prospective clients I sometimes get comments along the lines of “I have a very advanced palate” or “I do all my tastings myself” or even “I don’t like graphs” (gasp!).

It’s all fine and well to buy a batch of wines, lining them up and tasting them (hopefully) blind, making a few tasting comments and maybe giving a quality score. That’s okay if you want a rough idea of the lay of the land.

If that’s your only approach to benchmarking wine, then you are missing out.

Using descriptive analysis for benchmarking

There are many forms of descriptive sensory analysis ranging from very expensive and time consuming conventional methods to easy and fast (and cheap) rapid sensory profiling methods. The Stellenbosch University is currently working on a web application to help winemakers use descriptive analysis in their own environment. I’ve seen the demo and it looks great! Can’t wait to use it myself.

The benefits of descriptive analysis are that:

  • You can visualize your data to make more informed conclusions
  • You can overlay your results with other data types such as sales volumes, retail price, chemical analysis and consumer preference

Why use an independent service provider?

For wine producers who are dissatisfied with uncertainty in their benchmarking procedures, benchmarking with an independent service provider provides 100% unbiased and objective results with scientific certainty.

Using an independent service provider means that you have certainty that:

  • The panellists have proven sensory acuity and are trained to follow sensory science procedures
  • You have enough panellists for data integrity
  • The tasting is done under laboratory conditions and with an experiment design that eliminates all bias
  • Sensory scientists have strong understanding of data structure and statistics and can interpret results correctly

Unlike at-home benchmarking tastings, using an independent service provider

  • Eliminates the cellar palate phenomenon,
  • Avoids having the opinion of someone higher up in the hierarchy dominate the rest of the group’s opinion
  • Avoids basing the outcome on one person’s opinion only

Click here to enquire about pricing for benchmarking your wine.