Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Consumer at heart of product tests

By Abigail Klingbeil
Gannett News Service

VALHALLA, N.Y. - Opokua Kwapong, Pepsi-Cola's vice president of worldwide innovation and noncarbonated product development, prefers drinking sugar-free beverages.

But she doesn't impose her taste on Pepsi-Cola drinkers.

"We never rely on my golden taste buds," Kwapong says. "We're always going to the consumers and verifying we've gone the right way."

Kwapong works at Pepsi-Cola Research and Development Center, a campus of buildings where Pepsi-Cola develops and tests its beverages.

Inside these buildings, computerized laboratories develop a "chemical fingerprint" of beverages so they can be easily replicated; scientists, in conjunction with their marketing counterparts, concoct the next generation of Pepsi products.

Pepsi-Cola keeps a database of specialized tasters, people who can accurately differentiate sweet, sour, salty and bitter tastes, and can pick out subtleties in flavoring.

Pepsi-Cola Research and Development Center, which employs 350 people, has an on-site sensory testing laboratory, where the specialized tasters describe to Pepsi-Cola researchers what they are tasting. This intensive testing gives Pepsi-Cola the insight it needs to relate to its consumers.

"We look for creative ways to get that consumer input," Kwapong says. "That, to me, is the most important aspect of what we do. All the science in the world isn't going to get you what you need if the consumer doesn't like it."

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