From eucalyptus toothpaste to a brew for the flu: tailoring products to different tastes

Did you know that in different parts of the world your favourite product might come in flavours you’ve never even heard of? Find out where these ideas for different tastes come from and how they make it onto the shelf. 

When devising ideas for new consumer healthcare products, like toothpaste, painkillers or indigestion remedies, the journey starts with what consumers want.

Data and insights telling us about what consumers are looking for, when it comes to looking after their own health, helps us shape the products consumers really need.

Every year we carry out research involving around 10,000 consumers. The studies take place either in our Consumer Sensory Labs or at consumers’ homes. The aim is to understand how consumers live, how they use products and the challenges they face in their lives.

By targeting our insights, we can make sure our products are personalised and ensure they’re the right product for the right person, wherever they are in the world.  

Our data shows that taste and packaging are the two areas where we can have the greatest impact when customising our products.  

Finding the right flavour

When it comes to identifying trends in taste around the world, our Consumer Healthcare business works closely with flavour houses, which are companies that create and produce flavours which are added to product formulations.

Together, we create a flavour profile, so that the flavour house can develop a few options in small batches for us to test. A flavour isn’t just one ingredient, it is a mix of ingredients that we develop with the flavour houses – this is what we call a flavour profile.

We then test these options with a panel of experts to assess flavour, smell, colour and other properties of the product, to give a holistic view on which is preferred. Once we’ve identified the flavour we want to go with, the flavour house develops it in a larger quantity and supplies it to our manufacturing team to add to the product.

The format of the flavour is liquid and very concentrated, so it’s only a very small amount – often less than 2% of the overall product – and we must ensure that we use the correct quantity for each and every product we produce.

“Some of the trends we’re seeing are that there is a growing preference for products with a natural flavour,” said Nicolas Pochart, Director Consumer Innovation & Sensory Sciences.

Consumers in certain countries associate particular herbs with traditional remedies. Insight tells us that these flavours bring a connection to that remedy – essentially creating a sense of nostalgia and familiarity.

Uniting science with nature

This trend for products that taste more natural has led us to create two new products – a toothpaste with a herbal flavour and a remedy for indigestion and heartburn that combines science with nature.

Our research showed that people in India and China really like the distinctive flavours you find in traditional herbal remedies, in their toothpaste.

“In India, our consumers like eucalyptus and fennel because of their traditional uses. Eucalyptus is known for its purifying properties and fennel is traditionally used as a natural way to freshen the mouth,” explained Rachel Koontz, Category R&D Lead, Sensitivity & Acid Erosion. “We added the actual extracts of these plants to the toothpaste and worked with a flavour house to incorporate the familiar flavours of eucalyptus and fennel in order to create a product which our consumers will love."

Because we know that people like the look of their toothpaste to match the flavour, we also added a pale green colour. The result is our Sensodyne Herbal Multi-Care toothpaste, specifically developed with our Indian and Chinese consumers in mind.

Innovation by design: how do you combine science and nature in a toothpaste

Brush up on the science behind our toothpaste – meet Rachel, one of our researchers, and see how she and her team made our toothpaste taste like eucalyptus and fennel.

When it comes to indigestion and heartburn, ajwain (a herb) is traditionally used in homemade remedies in India to alleviate these symptoms. But our typical consumer wouldn’t normally make their own remedies at home. So we have developed an ajwain-flavoured version of our Eno antacid, giving consumers a product with the taste they want using our proven science.

Similarly, in Brazil, chamomile has been used as a home remedy for heartburn for hundreds of years, so we produced a chamomile flavoured Eno.

On the flip side, in the US, consumers prefer products which don’t make them think of medicine at all – and they like to have minimal downtime when they’re ill. So our heartburn remedy, Tums, has fruity flavours specific to the US so it fits with a consumer’s normal routine.  

The right package  

It isn’t just taste that differs. Practical considerations, such as how a product is packaged, are important to consumers too.

Take the US – we found that electric kettles are rarely found in US homes. This is due in part to the lower household voltage. This means brewing hot drinks is far from convenient and therefore a barrier to use. They do, however, tend to have coffee pod machines: 30% of American households have a Keurig machine – a beverage brewing system most famous for its coffee-pods.

So we found a way to put our Theraflu cold and flu remedy into a coffee pod. It might sound simple, but it took several years of work to develop and ensure the product would be compatible and safe.

Theraflu PowerPods: A Brew For The Flu

Electric kettles are rarely found in US homes, due in part to the lower household voltage. But they do tend to have coffee-pod machines. In fact, 30% of American households have a Keurig machine – a system for brewing hot and cold drinks, most famous for its coffee-pods. So we created Theraflu PowerPods, which provide our soothing flu medicine at the touch of a button.

The future is still face-to-face  

Nicolas explained that technology such as smart phones and social media are giving us opportunities to reach consumers in different ways and understand their needs. “This has opened up a new world of possibilities for consumer scientists, helping us to be closer than ever to our consumers,” he said.

But face-to-face is still best so that we can understand consumers in the context of their own environment.

“The foundations of consumer science will always remain: they are about showing empathy towards our consumers, understanding who they are, what their needs are and then creating and testing product prototypes to suit them.”