Global brand, local taste
A look at food preferences across the globe
Some brands transcend language barriers and are known across the globe for the delivery of the experience on which their reputation is built. We’re talking Coca Cola, Nescafé, Gucci, Revlon and Harry Potter, all universally recognized.
Lesser known perhaps, is the lengths taken to provide suitable local flavouring, ensuring its universal appeal. To this end Nestlé commits an annual budget of $1, 4 billion to R&D in the food industry complete with a team of 3,700 people.
The largest food company in the world, Nestlé has its headquarters in Switzerland and sells its products to 130 countries. Covering such diversity with sales of $80 billion per annum, one could assume standardization is the most profitable alternative. Not so, says Thomas Hauser who runs the Singen centre, in southern Germany, part of a global network of research-and-development facilities run by Nestlé. Food demands local flavour. Such is the wisdom of 140 years of experience that Nestlé takes very seriously.
Nescafé, one of its biggest brands, is vastly diverse ranging from 3-in-1 sachets in parts of Asia with coffee, milk and sugar for local taste, to the more expensive freeze-dried Colombian Nescafé aimed at the French coffee connoisseurs, delivering about 200 different types of Nescafé all told. In addition the 800 odd components that go into the brand are tweaked to suit local preferences.
KitKat too has local taste preferences, where a Russian KitKat is smaller than a Bulgarian one which in turn, is not as sweet as a German one. A Nestlé confectionery in York, England is tasked with the subtle skill of adding or reducing ingredients like sugar or cocoa, in accordance with where they will be sold.
Subjected to a taste test, Peter Gumble samples six variants of Maggi tomato soup – for Turkey, India, Switzerland, Austria and two for Germany. While the packaging is outwardly similar except for language, differences in the soup itself vary in cooking time, colour, texture and of course taste. The Turkish variant is pale and watery, and offered at a retail price within the basic minimum. You only get the ingredients you pay for.
Translating consumer opinion to saleable product development, sensory testing, a two-step process involves asking consumers what they like and dislike, while using experts with trained palates to test more rigorously and scientifically. They have to interpret what consumers mean by ‘lighter’ or ‘medicinal’.
According to Francois-Xavier Perroud, company spokesman, taste profiling goes back to childhood, so it’s most likely that you will enjoy best, the food, be it chocolate or cheese, closest in taste to the one you grew up with. This being an art, rather than a science, rule of thumb suggests 8 out of 10 products in the food industry sustain a two-year life span from launch, not more.
Back in Vevey, Nestlé headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva, Jean Marie Gurné vice president of the ice-cream business unit explained the differences between the vanilla ice-cream made for the Germans and the one sold in France. Gurné says this is in Nestlé’s interest but the key is balance, and it’s important to avoid making differences overly complex. When the company introduced small squares of chocolate coated vanilla ice-cream, ‘Dibs’ in the US they were a sellout. This year they will be sold in Europe under the brand ‘Pops’. The chocolate on the outside will accommodate local taste but the vanilla on the inside will be the same.
But not all food products are tailored to fit local peculiarities - there are some that are truly global – exactly the same all over the world. One of these is Nestlé’s premium ice-cream, Häagen–Dazs. As there are no national specifics to the brand, both manufacturing and marketing are much easier.
In spite of Häagen-Dazs’ universality, Nestlé still serves the Fins and Scandinavians an alternative called Aino. As the Finns, along with their Scandinavian counterparts are the biggest ice-cream consumers per capita in Europe, Nestlé saw the value in appealing to local tastes. Fins may choose from child-inspired flavours like blue berry pie and cranberry, as well as caramel. It’s proven hugely successful and delighted shareholders. So the key to success in the food business, like most areas of life, is balance – local but not too local, global but not at the expense of national. A delicate balance indeed.