While food is science, taste is subjective.
Most of you judge food within milliseconds of putting it in your mouth.
Signals from your tongue nerves fire to your brain and the reaction determines whether you become a loyal fan or never try that food again.
The Problem with Taste
When we were testing various formulations, one of the frustrating problems we encountered was an inability to know if our latest formula objectively tasted good.
We’ve eaten a LOT of instant ramen in our lives and we’d like to think that we have high standards for noodles.
But as creators of our product, we’re always going to be emotionally biased.
We know our low-carb and keto-friendly ramen is the first of its kind.
We know they’re made with significantly more nutritious ingredients.
And we love eating immi every single day.
But does that mean other people will love immi? Crave immi? Scream #gimmeimmi from their rooftops?
The Delusion Trap
Before immi, KChan and I spent the past combined 15 years building consumer products across various industries.
We know how it easy it is to delude yourself into thinking that a product you have poured your heart into will be loved by others in the same way.
The food industry is no different.
When you’ve spent close to two years experimenting and failing over and over again in your own kitchen to come up with the perfect formula, it can be scary to reveal your baby to the world.
In the early days, we would invite select friends to come over and try our ramen.
Our friends gave us feedback and most told us they liked our ramen, but we knew the results would always be biased.
As honest as they want to be, close friends rarely want to hurt your feelings.
The Blind Taste Test
To get more honest feedback, we knew we had to do a larger scale taste testing with people who had no pre-existing biases.
A few weeks ago, we reached out to an acquaintance who runs a local commercial kitchen.
We knew that he had historically allowed food startups to run taste testing sessions 😜 out of the kitchen space in the evenings.
Luckily, he had actually been planning to host another tasting event in a week’s time and we had slipped in right before the cut-off deadline.
We would be 1 of 8 other food startups who would also be demo’ing food products and there were already 80+ participants who had signed up to be tasters for the event.
To participate, we would have to bring enough immi ramen samples for 80+ strangers, as well as bring in enough samples of a competitor’s product for a side-by-side comparison.
The taste testing would be done blind 😑, which meant that the 80+ strangers who signed up had no idea which product was yours or your competitors.
Since this was the largest scale taste testing we had ever done, we didn’t want to waste the opportunity.
Simple feedback around whether our ramen tasted good or bad wasn’t enough.
We wanted more granularity to improve our ramen, so we spent a few days crafting a comprehensive survey.
We had quantitative and qualitative questions around the chewiness of our low-carb noodle, mouthfeel, surface texture, taste, synergy with the broth, and many more.
The Big Day
On the day of the event, we spent all day preparing enough immi ramen and seasoning for 80 people.
We arrived an hour early to get set up, meet the other startups who were demo’ing, and put signs in place so people knew which station we were.
A small sign on our table simply said “better-for-you ramen.”
We chose not to reveal any more details because we wanted people to taste our product without the mental bias of knowing its incredible nutritional benefits.
As the hour passed by, a slow trickle of attendees started to spill into the kitchen.
Minutes later, the space had filled to the brim and noise levels rose from the anticipation.
Attendees were batched into groups to move along each station and we were asked to leave our stations so that our presence wouldn’t bias the survey results.
The 80 attendees moved around in their assigned groups, tasting each product and competitor product at each station.
After tasting, they would use their mobile phones to fill out the survey we had sent out prior to the session.
We stood nervously at a distance 😳 and found it hard not to glance at everyone’s faces and body language as they slurped our ramen and sipped at the broth.
While we saw the majority of people smiling as they ate our ramen, we couldn’t tell what they were rating on their phones.
When all of the attendees finished roaming the stations, the survey results were automatically compiled and sent to each founder.
We opened the results and were stunned.
The feedback was better than we expected. The majority of people enjoyed immi ramen and our overall rating scores were mostly 4 or 5.
At the end of the event, we were given the chance to reveal to the audience that our ramen was low carb, high protein, high in fiber, plant-based, and keto-friendly.
When we revealed the nutritional benefits, we heard multiple gasps and shrieks 😲.
The attendees couldn’t believe what they had heard. Ramen without the carbs? How is that possible?
Many approached us after the event ended and asked where they could buy immi ramen (always a great sign!).
Where We Go From Here
We’ve stated this in a previous post, but one of our values as a company is quality above all.
Despite seeing these great results, we know we can do better.
Not everyone rated us a 5 out of 5.
A lot of the consistent qualitative feedback was that our noodle could pick up soup better.
This is something we’ve known for awhile due to our unique ingredient profile that has less starch, but seeing more of this feedback helped us calibrate how much more we needed to improve.
Overall, we’re really glad we participated in this blind tasting test. Every day is an opportunity to learn and improve and this day was no different.
Onwards and upwards!