Taste is one of the first preference and purchase criteria for consumers. From the tomato to Nutella, the French palate has developed to welcome new flavours created by brands. So how did taste become a brand asset for appealing to us consumers again and again?
1.So what actually is taste?
Taste is one of the five senses through which we learn about flavours and the composition of food. As chef Thierry Marx explains: “Through chewing, the aromatic molecules contained in food are released and they then hit our receptive sensors…” In this way, we can detect the sour, salty, bitter, sweet, hot, cold, crunchy or soft nature of the food we are eating.
But beyond simple flavour, taste is referred to as a multisensory impression. What child has never pushed away a meal that his mother has made for him simply based on its colour and smell? Taste is thus closely linked to characteristics perceived by the other senses. Flavour, texture, appearance and smell all play a part in the decisions we make about food.
The new modestly named “L’éclair de genie” (stroke of genius) brand of éclairs that is now all the rage in our capital has tapped into this very aspect. A succulent flavour but also stylish products that enhance the taste even more. We could eat them all!
From birth, we all have a liking for sweet flavours. This taste remains one of our main sources of pleasure and comfort throughout our life. A crying child? All it takes is a sweet and no more tears. Heartache? A large tub of ice cream and all is forgotten!
The universal appeal of sweet flavours is an exception to the rule as taste is actually very personal to the individual and there are significant differences in taste perception between two people, especially when it comes to bitterness. Some people love the taste of coffee, endives or grapefruit whereas as others can’t stand them. Every man to his own taste!
2. Taste develops from a very young age
Studies have shown that our diet as an adult is largely influenced by the food we eat on a daily basis up to the age of three. A child who is used to seeing spinach on his plate will continue to eat it regularly as an adult. And yet, we all begin our life with a very limited range of flavours and we develop preferences as we try out different tastes. This is why it is vital to introduce children to a wide range of flavours from a very early age. What’s more, with around 10,000 taste buds, twice as many as an adult, little ones are highly receptive to what they eat.
Better still, food preferences develop inside the womb. At five months, the fœtus’ taste buds begin to awaken. It discovers different flavours through its mother’s diet, which influences the taste of the amniotic fluid and later breast milk.
The newborn is only able to discover the real taste of food from six months on, which is the start of the diet diversification stage, a key stage in a baby’s life. Babies can finally eat something other than milk and don’t they just love it! They gradually discover new types of food, tastes and textures….starting with those that are best tolerated by their stomach.
3. Taste and identity
Learning about taste is a key stage because as adults our tastes in food say a lot about who we are. In fact, taste is first of all proof of knowledge. Someone who can distinguish a good wine from a bad one is valued: that person has good taste. Knowledge can be a sign of social status.
Our individual taste is also influenced to a large degree by where we come from and our culture. Each continent and country has its own culinary traditions. In India, for example, children are used to the taste of spice and more specifically curry (often present in the taste of breast milk) from a very early age. And then naturally this yellow spice is an everyday accompaniment to their meals. The same goes for rice in Asia and olive oil in Mediterranean countries…
So by analysing an individual’s daily meals, you could almost guess where they come from. Taste becomes an identity.
4. The range of tastes, from the most natural to the completely man-made
Nature offers a rich array of tastes, with every fruit, vegetable, meat and spice having its own taste, that sometimes can only be defined by its name: the taste of beef, for example.
For a single type of product, there can be a host of different varieties, such as the apple, for example. The golden is crunchy, soft and sweet, the Granny Smith is tart and juicy. There are hundreds of different varieties each with its own unique taste properties. And then there are those that have been created or altered by human hand, such as the Pink Lady, which is made from the Golden Delicious and Lady Williams varieties and is known for its ultra-sweet taste.
Because consumers are always keen to discover new flavours, every day sees the creation of something new. These flavours are taking the market by storm and Lay’s roast chicken flavour crisps are taking over the shelves in our shops. We all know this packet of crisps contains absolutely no chicken at all but we love the taste of the product. Not the taste of the roast chicken though, but the taste of Lay’s roast chicken flavour!
Yes, you’ve got it, taste has become a brand…
These brands are part of our everyday life and we buy them for their unique taste. In addition to natural tastes, there is now an infinite array of artificial flavours. In the range of strawberries for example, sitting alongside Gariguette, Mara des bois and Pajaro, you can now find Tagada. The brand is becoming an unmistakable and irreplaceable flavour.
These brands are extremely popular with the French, sometimes more so than natural products. Today, children enjoy Kinder more than real chocolate and actually for them Kinder IS real chocolate. The taste brand is becoming bigger than the original product.
This is also the case with the previously mentioned and celebrated Pink Lady. It was voted France’s favourite apple. More than just a variety of apple, Pink Lady is first and foremost a brand. It doesn’t just taste sweet, the taste is Love.
5. Taste, a source of emotions
What a pleasure it is to munch on a piece of chocolate or enjoy a nice bit of pastry! This triggers in us a feeling of happiness. According to a study of French people and chocolate, 73% of them say they feel happier after eating a piece of chocolate. You might think this is psychological but in actual fact it is chemical.
American researchers have proved that taste on its own can trigger a pleasurable response. They studied the chemical changes in the brain as people drank beer. Right from the very first swig, so without the alcohol affecting their body, their brains released high levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a pleasure molecule.
So there is a clear link between taste and emotions. Proust, better than anyone, had already highlighted this in his “madeleine cake episode”. As you may remember, the character in the novel bites into a madeleine. It triggers in him an involuntary memory of Sunday mornings spent in Combray at his Aunt Léonie’s house, and above all a feeling of joy. He had noticed these little soft cakes many times before but it was only when he tasted them that he was transported back into his past: “The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it”.
Taste is a special stimulus as it is directly connected to the emotional part of the brain, the amygdala. So by tasting food, our personal memories come back…our childhood, our traditions, our travels… but also a person, an atmosphere, a moment of laughter or sadness…
Taste develops from a very early age and lasts a lifetime. It creates preferences and also can trigger emotions. This hasn’t been lost on food brands. More than ever, they want to create a strong and lasting emotional connection with consumers. Taste has become a vital means of appealing to consumers but above all a brand identity code.
It helps to convey values and evoke an atmosphere strongly associated with the brand. At CBA, there is accounting for taste! In addition to creative levers, sensory levers also play a part in the brand experience.
After their graphic, scent and sound identity, brands must define their taste identity to become even more appealing to consumers!