Food Engineering

Editor's Note: The taster's choice may be less complicated than you think

October 1, 2010
Perhaps our industry’s time and money would be better spent on lean manufacturing, food safety and nutritional enhancements and less on line changeovers, special in-store displays and rainbow pallets.

Much has been written about the fact that those of us living in 21st century Western civilization have too many choices when it comes to retail purchases such as TVs, clothing and food. After listening to speeches by two leading authors and social commentators, I have a better feeling of where I stand on the matter.

Like any consumer, I have no idea which of the 20 brands on display to buy when it comes to infrequently purchased food items. Often times, it takes me 10 minutes to choose a bottle of salad dressing. It’s a hit-or-miss situation, and I’ve concluded price has no bearing on whether I end up enjoying the product and purchasing it again.

On the other hand, I don’t like it when my favorite products disappear from store shelves or my favorite flavor is discontinued. I understand everyone wasn’t as crazy about the now-defunct Amaretto Milano as I was, but when at least four people I know are, like me, searching for orange poppy seed salad dressing, I know there’s a missed opportunity.

After hearing authors Malcolm Gladwell’s talk on spaghetti sauce and Barry Schwartz’s presentation on the paradox of choice (both on TED.com), I realize freedom of choice is good, but only to a certain extent.

Everyone in the food and retail industries can learn something from these talks. For instance, food and beverage manufacturers may do well to offer consumers limited but better-targeted choices. Even with all the variety available at retail outlets, there are still unfulfilled niches. Less choice, in this case, may be more profitable for manufacturers, according to some schools of thought.

Perhaps our industry’s time and money would be better spent on lean manufacturing, food safety and nutritional enhancements and less on line changeovers, special in-store displays and rainbow pallets.

Watch the videos, and see what you think. The buyer’s palate may be less discerning than you’ve been lead to believe. The next step, and perhaps the hardest, is changing the mindset of retailers.