NEW DELHI: "Palate maps" and sensory evaluation of product prototypes are helping PepsiCo, the snack foods giant, develop new flavours that will appeal to the many different parts of the Indian market.

In an ESOMAR paper – Leveraging qualitative for indigenous innovation: How Pepsi is building a franchise around indigenous flavour innovations – delivered in Dublin last month, Ruchira Jain (vp/Consumer Strategy & Insights, PepsiCo, India) Shivkumar Raman (research consultant, India) and Irene Joshy (research director, TNS Global, China), explain that "there is no 'One India' when it comes to food and flavours".

There are a wide range of influences across its various regions, including climate and religion as well as socio-economic and cultural factors. International brands have often failed to fully appreciate this, preferring to simply transfer a global product without adapting to local tastes.

"The diversity can be daunting but at the same time can offer immense opportunities for marketers who are willing to take on this challenge," the authors note before outlining how PepsiCo has addressed it.

Its first step was to map the country's flavours and flavour combinations and to note the dishes and snacks that characterised each region. "We were dealing with 32 different socio-cultural regions and roughly 93 dishes and 75 snacks," the authors reported.

But PepsiCo needed to go beyond amassing a bunch of recipes to explore the social contexts and cultural meanings involved.

A "sensorial elicitation" tool helped to gain an understanding of how consumers decode flavours and the sensations accompanying them – visual and olfactory as well as taste – and these findings fed into the creation of a number of prototype products for testing.

One of these has already been successfully launched in a key region and is being scaled up nationally.

"The innovation process is so much richer as it's starting from clear consumer articulated spaces and the probability of success increases manifold due to [the] closer match between consumer expectations and R&D product delivery," the authors said.

Data sourced from ESOMAR; additional content by Warc staff