How to Use Qualitative Research to Support Your Beverage Brand

How to Use Qualitative Research to Support Your Beverage Brand

Beverage launches have a high failure rate. Big producers rely on quantitative research to fine-tune and fix new beverage propositions ahead of time. Small businesses can level the field by utilizing qualitative research to help increase confidence in the market potential of new ideas. Good qualitative research will uncover inherent strengths while reliably predicting the flaws in a proposition before the market judges it for real.

Root & Branch explains the role and benefits of conducting qualitative research in beverage innovation and packaging development processes.

The Case for Qualitative

Big producers rely on (high ticket) quantitative research studies such as Nielsen’s BASES to assess and fine-tune new beverage propositions. Small businesses can level the field by utilizing qualitative research to help increase confidence in the market potential of new ideas.

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative Research (‘Qual’) is a branch of social science research that works with non-numerical data. The goal is to collect and interpret meaning from this data. In practice, this involves talking to independently recruited respondents from a given target market and assessing their responses to stimuli representing new product/brand ideas. These stimuli might include brand names, written product concepts, liquid samples, recipe ideas, and visualised packaging concepts.

What Role Does It Play?

In the context of developing a new beverage, the goal is to understand how new propositions fit within a category and compete against incumbents. Qual is about discovering what lies behind the top-of-mind responses consumers offer when faced with new product stimuli. In this way, Qual is not about choosing winners. It is about diagnostics. Qual will uncover the relative strengths and weaknesses of potential propositions within a category context. Good Qual will go beyond general findings – detailing what worked and what didn’t work – to recommend the way to win, making specific, actionable recommendations for on-pack brand and product communication.

Benefits of Qual in the Beverage Innovation / Brand Development Process

Good Qual creates confidence for brand owners. A well planned and executed study will shine a light on how a proposed proposition is performing against the key dimensions that determine the real-world success of new beverages hoping to break into a market:


benefits of qualitative reserach for beverages

Beverage launches have a high failure rate precisely because they fail to assess and optimise new propositions against these success dimensions. Good Qual will highlight the inherent strengths while reliably predicting the flaws before the market makes its own judgement. At the end of the day it’s less costly to get a new product right before launch. As the adage goes: measure twice cut once.

When to Utilize Qual in Beverage Development

NEW PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT (NPD) STRATEGY: Qual is invaluable in the early phases of the innovation / NPD process. For example, an entrepreneur may have an idea for a beverage product in mind but be less clear on how to position the features or benefits. Perhaps there are several potential brand names on the table. Qual can ‘pull apart’ different ways of bringing the product idea to life by creating several ‘hypothesis concepts’. In this case, the research will shine a light on the highest potential (most relevant, credible, distinctive) route to pursue.

BRAND DEVELOPMENT: In another situation, the proposition might be more solidified. Perhaps the brand owner has secured a trademark. It’s the details around branding and packaging communication that need to be better understood. In this case, more focussed concept stimuli will uncover how key purchase and consumption drivers relate to brand visual identity and product communication on pack. The output of research here would be a specific recommendation on how to optimise the packaged proposition for launch.

Buying Qual

Using an agency to deliver Qual requires investment. It takes time and a hence chunk of money to design, prepare, moderate, and write-up any worthwhile study. There might be additional costs for design and possibly prototyping (to develop packaging concepts / liquid samples to share with consumers). However, if you want to make an omelet, you’ve got to break some eggs!

Based on our client and agency-side experiences in beverage innovation, here are a few tips on what to look for when considering a Qual agency from a beverage’s perspective:

1. SPECIALIST. Good Qual relies on useful interpretation to turn data into commercially relevant insight. This insight is a function of experience. Avoid generalist research agencies that lack a track record in beverages. There’s no such thing as an expert in everything, and ‘generic’ research skills and methodologies will only take you so far. Providers with significant beverage experience will also have a better understanding of the regulatory, category, and commercial realities that must be accounted for in recommendations.

2. DESIGN-ORIENTATED. The quality of insight coming out of Qual correlates directly with the quality of the stimuli going in. Less specific stimuli (such as written concepts/mood boards) often illicit general responses such as: ‘I’d have to try it’. Get Real! To be confident in the output of Qual in beverages, you need to be ‘testing’ with visualized packaging concepts (called ‘Packcepts’). Sharing well-resolved Packcepts is the only way to get detailed advice on the critical aspects of packaging communication that shoppers use to make decisions at the shelf (or increasingly on-line). Any agency worth its salt will be able to significantly help clients in developing hypothesis Packcepts.

3. END-TO-END. What should the output of Qual be? All too often, it’s a report that, while making complete sense, leaves the client with one big question: What do we do now? Qual agencies that haven’t had the experience of developing propositions all the way to shelf struggle to help clients move forward with concrete recommendations. There’s no point in spending precious startup resources on a fancy presentation that does little more than gather dust!


About Root & Branch

Root & Branch is a focused beverage strategy, innovation, and design consultancy with a track record in launching successful innovations for clients of all shapes and sizes. Based in the UK, the company is highly mobile and conducts beverage NPD and brand development projects all around the world.

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