Saturday, November 27, 2010

What New Coke Has to Tell Wineries About the Wine Tasting Process

Terry post:

It was 1985 when the Coca-Cola Company introduced a new formulation of Coke. The re-formulation was an instant failure with the public. In a matter of only a couple months the Coca-Cola Company back-tracked and re-introduced the old Coke formulation as Coke Classic while maintaining the New Coke formula. The two products existed side by side until 1992 when the New Coke was dropped from the American line-up leaving Coke Classic - the old formulation - as their primary product.

How did the Coca-Cola Company make such a huge miscalculation? How is it that they were willing to sacrifice so much brand equity switching from a reliable flavor to a new, and allegedly improved, flavor? The answer: the data told them to do so.

In 1945 the Coca-Cola brand owned 60% of the domestic soft drink market. By the beginning of the early 1980s that huge margin had shrunk to a much smaller 25%. Management saw that market shrinkage as a problem - a big problem.

Management began a review of internal processes, procedures and products. The result of that review was a decision to tweak the formulation of Coca-Cola to something less acidic and sweeter, favored by younger consumers, than the long standing formulation. One of the critical pieces of information used by decision makers was the results for thousands of "sip tests" - tests which broke strongly in favor of the new formula.

There was, it seemed, a systemic fault with the testing methodology. Consumers don't buy cola to drink it a sip at a time. What tastes good in a very small sample may grow tiresome or unappealing when consumed in larger quantities. In short, the test methodology did not meet a critical criterion of testing: representing the actual user's environment. People drink cola by the can - not the 1 ounce sip. Despite strong support for the "New Coke" in the sip tests it bombed when consumed by the can.

A few weeks ago I visited several wineries while visiting my brother in Iowa and in each location I was presented with a similar opportunity to taste the wines: a cheerful wine rep pouring small, 1 - 2 ounce, samples of wine one after another while standing at a counter.

So here is something to ponder: Do wineries provide a realistic taste testing opportunities for buyers, or are they creating their own "New Coke" problems?

The Coca-Cola Company failed by relying too heavily on the results of sip-tests which were not representative of how its customers used their products.

The overwhelming majority of wine sold in the U.S. is consumed with a meal.

Wine sampling should be more closely aligned with how wine is consumed so that the customer gets a more realistic representation of the product. This is more important for places like Iowa where the local wine varietals are not known or understood. How many times have you been asked what to serve with Foch?

I could easily imagine a winery providing small, 1 ounce, serving of a food (pasta, slivers of meat, cheese, vegetables, etc) which pairs well with the wine being sampled.

Yes, it would cost more. Yes, it would take more time. Yes, it would be more representative of how the wine will be consumed at home. Yes, it would lead to more satisfied customers.

Bottom line: Absent silly local laws against this common sense approach wineries should make their sampling process more representative of how it is consumed at home. Sample wine with food.
~ Terry


  1. Agreed... very interesting. You would probably only be limited to 1 sample, but it would serve the purpose of giving them an accurate representation of what the wine truly is.