I thrive on data. I love to sift through statistics and and qualitative research piecing together unrelated fact streams and digging deeply into areas of intrigue. I like to read research projects and report back. This fascination fuels my day job where I’m able to dig into customer research and opinion trends and create or modify programs to meet changing demands.
There are others with this interest but I’ve just become aware of the one who may be the Obi Wan of product optimization. He has optimized soups. He has optimized pizzas. He has optimized salad dressings and pickles. In his own self-description, “he’s a game changer”.
Meet Howard Moskowitz whose day job is that of a Market researcher, Psychophysicist, CEO of i-Novation Inc., and President of Moskowitz Jacobs Inc. Moskowitz, whose awards and credentials could fill a multiple page post on their own, is notable in the food industry for his ground-breaking or dare I say sauce-lifting work with Prego. In food scenarios he alters a stream of variables for the distinct purpose of finding the perfectly appealing version of a product. This perfect appeal is referred to by those in the food industry as “the bliss point” – the point where consumers crave a product the most. Not only does Moskowitz work with texture and all elements of a food product’s ingredients but through conjoint analysis he compares the textures and tastes against other variables such as packaging and color. The result is a stream of infinite combinations which have produced market winners such as Prego chunky spaghetti sauce, Cherry vanilla Dr. Pepper and many, many more.
His science is brilliant. “The mathematical model maps out the ingredients to the sensory perceptions these ingredients create so I can just dial a new product. This is the engineering approach, ” he recently told the NY Times. This article is worthy of your attention. Moskowitz’s product preference studies are also able to be segmented by age, geographical location, sex and race.
I have a deep fascination with this work. I marvel at the predictive analytics that can be used on something as personal as my taste buds. And Moskowitz isn’t the only one who conducts this type of research. There are numerous examples of product sales gone wild through this type of engineering such as lunchables, chili-cheese fritos and other intelligent combinations of sugar, salt and fat.
Couple this exciting science with an American public that has largely turned from regular meals into a more snacking generation and you have a perfect storm – 21 varieties of Cheetos. Apparently this history has been documented and will appear later this month in a new book titled, “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” published by Random House. The problem, as I see it, is that we are also a generation seeking the comfort of our traditions. After all, food tradition is what I blog about with some frequency. And the food tradition of much of the population in the country and beyond is that of colorfully wrapped snack foods.
Imagine the possibilities if we sent these mensa giants out with a cucumber, a sack of figs, and some walnuts. The possibility of applying their brilliance to the obesity crisis and the notion of increasing healthy eating would not rack up billions for the junk food giants – rather it would stabilize a health care system for generations to come. The article closes with one bright story where these principles have been used to increase the consumption of carrots. You know the ones I’m referring to; neatly shaved into small stubs and wrapped in lunch box sized baggies. It’s a way to use the marketing of junk food with something that is not.
The carrots are a step forward but to me, this seems a bright philanthropic invitation for food scientists in their old age.