Come to Your Senses to Improve Cider Marketing

12/15/2012 7:00 AM
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant New York Correspondent

GENEVA, N.Y. — It’s hard to describe a scent or a flavor, but wine and cider makers face this challenge when trying to market their products.

As part of the Dec. 3 cider and perry workshop, expert Peter Mitchell explained the importance of sensory analysis as it relates to effective marketing.

Accurately describing cider is important because consumers can be disappointed to find that their product tastes differently from how it’s described on the label, said Mitchell, owner of Mitchell Food & Drink Limited, Cider & Perry Academy and the Orchard Centre at Hartpury, Gloucestershire, UK.

“The cider industry has never been good at promoting its product,” he said. “It’s years behind the wine industry. Be sure the description on the label actually describes what’s in the bottle. I’ve seen this in the wine industry.”

Bland descriptions are unappealing and do not prompt browsers to become buyers.

He cautioned the participants that a consumer panel evaluation can be stilted since they’re often more polite and hesitant to give negative evaluation.

“Don’t just listen to what consumers say they like,” Mitchell added.

A trained panel can give more useful and objective information.

To help them understand how to describe their products, Mitchell had participants spend several minutes looking at two cider samples one at a time to study their color, viscosity, clarity and brightness while jotting down notes.

Then they shared their findings with the rest of the workshop, including terms such as “light, bright and clear.”

They noted that the cider had few “tears” and “legs,” meaning it did not leave streaks down the insides of the glasses.

“It can be a reflection of alcohol content,” Mitchell said. “More legs means more alcohol.”

In describing the scent and flavor, Mitchell wanted the participants to get specific.

“Avoid nice,’ and good,’ “ he said. “These are four-letter words in the world of sensory analysis. They are subjective.”

Instead, objective words such as “fruity” and “floral” are general terms to describe the scent or flavor of cider, and “pineapple,” “berry” and “rose” are specific examples.

After looking at the first sample, the participants next savored the aroma, describing it first in its stationary state, then after it was swirled in the glass. Participants responded with terms such as “wine-like,” “ester,” “banana” and “acidic.” After swirling the glass, they added “medicinal” and “cinnamon.”

When it was time to taste the cider, participants thoughtfully swooshed it in their mouths a few moments before offering “sweet, sour and a little salty,” as one participant put it.

Taking another sip, they focused on the “mouth feel” or tactile sensations the cider offered, including “light,” “watery,” “slight pucker,” “no astringency,” “little carbonation,” “soapy,” “silky” and “soft.”

They also evaluated the “length” of the cider — this one was “short” — and its aftertaste, mild and sweet. The length means how the cider fills the mouth, whether it feels like it takes a long time or a short time to swallow it.

The participants went through the entire process with the second sample, which was from Mitchell’s cider operation, and developed an entirely different evaluation.

“This is a much more complex cider,” Mitchell said.

He hoped the exercise would help participants appreciate the differences between cider varieties.

“Using dessert apples or cider apples makes a key difference,” he said.

Though not all of these terms are appropriate for a label — who wants a cider that’s “a medicinal quality blend with soapy undertones” — the exercise helped participants understand how to more accurately describe their products.

Mitchell also wanted to help them develop more effective label descriptions. Some technically correct terms, like “phenolic,” are not widely used by consumers, so “you’d need to educate the public or use other terms,” Mitchell said.

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