By Dan Scholes
Lemonade is one of the most iconic symbols of the dog days of summer. It’s the quintessential summer refresher – from the days of the ‘two cent lemonade stand’ to our modern day grocery stores which offer a vast array of new lemonade flavour combinations. Whether you’re working up a sweat in the garden or lounging by the pool, nothing fills a summertime thirst better than a tall, cool glass of lemonade.
But despite the simplicity and authentic image of lemonade, it is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of product. In fact, flavour preferences are so varied that appealing to a mainstream palette may not be quite as easy as it seems. We recently conducted a blind taste test of six store-bought lemonade brands to find out if any achieved the ‘perfect’ lemonade flavour profile.
We asked 50 females from the Greater Toronto Area who regularly consume lemonade to aid us in a blind evaluation of six brands of lemonade. All six samples were sold in cartons or plastic containers in the cooler section of the grocery store. Each participant evaluated 100ml of each sample, served in clear plastic cups labeled with a 3 digit code number and presented in varied order.
We first asked our testers about why they purchase lemonade over other fruit juices – with an astounding 90% saying that the main reason is because it is ‘more refreshing on hot days’.
Far from the tree
The results of our blind taste test resulted in an even split – three of our samples performed similarly on most performance measures and were the better performing brands overall, while the other three might appropriately be deemed the ‘lemons’ of the bunch. However, even among the better half of our brand array, scores on Overall Flavour were not particularly overwhelming. The top mean flavour score came in at 6.6 (out of 9), falling below our expected norms in a sweet beverage category.
There are three attributes which comprise the core flavour profile of lemonade for the everyday consumer – tartness/sourness, sweetness, and strength of the lemon flavour. By taking a closer look at some of these specific flavour attributes, we hope to learn more about these lacklustre flavour scores.
Sour taste notes are present in all citrus fruits and for some people the grimacing effect of sucking on a lemon is one of pleasure while to others it’s a source of extreme pain. Both the tolerance and likeability of sour flavours is wide ranging and our testers were no exception to this. For instance, when averaging all the sourness ratings about half of our testers rated sourness as ‘Just Right’, but the remaining fifty percent were equally divided – with a quarter wanting more sourness and another quarter wanting less. For product developers looking to find the right degree of sourness, this presents an obvious quandary.
Although sweetness is not technically the direct opposite of sourness, typically consumer ratings for these two attributes are inversely correlated – so a desire for less sweetness typically goes along with a desire for greater tartness. This relationship generally held true in our results; however, there was a greater overall dissatisfaction with sweetness and a more decisive leaning to the ‘too sweet’ side of the scale. In fact, two of the top performing products were much too sweet.
The Big Lemon
Although three samples fell below our performance norms, one product had the unflattering distinction of being the biggest ‘lemon’ in the bunch. This poor performer scored below a 5.0 on Overall Flavour – an immediate red flag that it is in desperate need of a flavour reboot! Specifically, it had very weak lemon flavour and was extremely polarized on both sweetness and sourness – a strong indication that there were few redeeming qualities with this flavour profile. In fact, the most common descriptors of this product were “Artificial” and “Watery” and over half of our testers indicated that they would not buy it.
A Peeling to the Masses
Some may say that there is nothing like the taste of freshly-squeezed lemonade – but maybe that’s because everyone has their own unique expectation of what exactly ‘freshly-squeezed lemonade’ should taste like so essentially it is unreplicable on a mass scale. What may be the perfect balance of sweetness, tartness, and lemon flavour for you, may be far from another person’s ideal.
Three brands emerged as the best products in our test but that does not mean they are winners – in fact we identified some very obvious failings in their flavour profiles. However, they may have reached the ceiling in product performance scores simply because they can’t please everyone. Perhaps this is a category where the only way to truly appeal to wide ranging taste expectations is with multiple variants such as “Super Sour”, “Extra Sweet”, or “Ultra Lemony” – similar to what you may find in many spicy food categories. However, product segmentation strategies ultimately add marketing costs…and as we all know, money doesn’t grow on lemon trees.
For questions about this research, or how you can leverage consumer taste buds in your business, contact Dan Scholes at [email protected] or (905) 456-0783.
Contract Testing Inc. is an industry leader in sensory evaluation and consumer product testing. With 30 years in business, we are innovators in testing with consumers across all major food, beverage and household and personal care categories.
This article appeared in the print issue:September 2015 edition, Sensory Trends section