spaghetti with tomato sauceWe love to eat! Maybe this is why we blog about taste claims and substantiation a lot! See here and here. And since at least one of us is always on a diet, when we indulge we like to pick the best tasting options. A competitive taste superiority message is incredibly powerful, and as such developing the necessary substantiation is exacting and expensive. Dollars to (better) tasting doughnuts, your less delicious competitor will be watching your back and seeking to test the quality of that evidence. Every year multiple challenges involving taste preference claims and the testing that supports them land on NAD’s plate to assess. One just this week actually involved dueling taste tests and considered the important question of who are the right people to test? We blogged about this before here in a case involving cereal looking at the right age range of people to test – buyers or eaters of the product. NAD’s general mantra is “taste tests should sample consumers who customarily use the products being compared.” The most recent case involving pasta sauce delved more specifically into this question of the appropriate testing universe.

Mizkan, maker of Ragu, claimed “Consumers prefer the taste of Ragu Homestyle Traditional OVER Prego Traditional.” On its face, this claim is specific and avoids the common problem of failing to identify the specific products being compared and veering into an overly broad line claim, such as NAD addressed here and here. What else did they do right? It’s a good review of the basics: (1) was double-blinded; (2) employed a geographically dispersed sample reflecting the target market; (3) compared products with similar shelf life that were purchased in the test market; (4) prepared both products according to instructions; (5) presented and tested both products in the same way; (6) required test subjects to cleanse their palates prior to tasting each product; and (7) generating statistically significant results (95% confidence level). Mizkan’s test also followed the standards set forth in ASTM Standard Guide for Sensory Claim Substantiation, E1958. The products were presented and tested in the same way, subjects cleansed their palates prior to tasting each product, and the order of tasting was systematically rotated. Subjects were asked, “Overall, which pasta sauce, if either, did you prefer on taste, the pasta sauce you tried first, the pasta sauce you tried second, or did you not have a preference for either sauce on taste?”

Mizkan’s test included users of tomato-based sauce. Campbell Soup Company, maker of Prego, challenged and offered its own survey showing parity between the two sauces when testing preferences of traditional pasta sauce users. Its expert urged that taste tests should not be conducted on users of the category, but rather the specific product or flavor at issue. NAD found that Mizkan has used the right population and that the Campbell’s sample was overly restrictive. It would not have worked to include people who do not eat traditional sauce, but traditional sauce is red sauce. NAD said “while it would be improper to test a particular flavor among consumers who specifically do not like that flavor, this is not to say that a taste test cannot be conducted employing subjects who like other flavors.” NAD also rounded out reminding us that the level of substantiation required is reasonable not perfect, and found this Mizkan study had all the right ingredients necessary to support the claim.