Product Report Card
Comparing products against the competition can pay off in more ways than one.
BakingBusiness.com, July 1, 2011
by Jim Kline
Certainly you are familiar with the phrase “quality is free” — a concept popularized by a Philip Crosby book by that title that was published in 1979. In fact, I would assume many of you either have or had a copy of this book on your bookshelf.

As we all know, there is a cost to maintaining quality: the cost of premium ingredients, packaging, process control and a skilled and experienced workforce. And certainly tough economic times test what people perceive as quality and what premium we are willing to place on it. Basically the decision on maintaining, improving or, in some cases, reducing the level of quality weighs on the projected gain or loss in volume associated with the change. In the end, it isn’t the product that matters; it is consumers' acceptance of change.

Recently, I have become involved in a regional technical high school with a very good and interesting culinary program. The program focuses on preparing students with an interest in a restaurant and institutional business or in the baking arts. In the past, no one could provide an industrial perspective to these programs, and supplying this perspective has become an interest of mine. And the students are responding to the message, but I digress. What does this have to do with quality?

I had the opportunity to spend a day with the classes talking about our industry. Beside the typical cobbled-together PowerPoint overview of the baking industry, I decided to start with something basic and, as it turned out, something new for them. We did product scoring, comparing the same product from several different bakers. Before starting the tasting, we talked about what should be considered when evaluating a product. The students came up with 13 criteria for scoring products on a scale of 0 to 9 (see “A Baker’s Dozen for Product Scoring” below).

Once we developed our criteria, reviewed knife safety and set up, we proceeded with the scoring. About 90% of the students were familiar with the products. No one in the four classes had an unfavorable opinion of these products; the products were equal in their minds before testing.

After we looked at the packaging and coding, the products were running neck and neck, even though some were significantly more expensive than the others. Then came the evaluation of the initial overall product appearance, and the differences in products began to emerge. Looking at the internal structure drew even more product distinction. The final blow came from tasting the product, not just devouring it. In the end, consensus among the students was that they would never buy nor eat one of the brands again. Interestingly, they found it “stale” and lacking flavor. They also checked the code dates and found the product they disliked actually had a code date that extended well beyond those of the others being scored.

I did not expect this dramatic of a difference in the products I selected, but there was one. The students scored the products fairly and accurately. It made me wonder, how many bakers out there really look at their products and compare them to competitive products? How many compare their products to their own standards? Taking it one step further, how many ever re-evaluate their standards? Lastly, how many look but never see? Judging from the variation that we see in the marketplace, many don’t look or don’t care. Yet this measurement of quality is free.

If youth can distinguish between good and bad quality, why can’t we? And if we can, why aren’t the quality issues addressed? How many bakeries do you know that do not exist today because they lost sight of their customers and what was important to them? Have you ever heard of a company failing because its product was too good? Take the time to assess your quality against your own measures and your competition. Being introspective doesn’t cost a thing; raising awareness about quality doesn’t cost you either. Don’t do either, and all you’ll do is watch the competition grow.

A BAKER’S DOZEN FOR PRODUCT SCORING

To evaluate and compare the quality of competing products, students developed and used these 13 criteria to score each product. Each criterion was rated on a scale from 0 to 9.

• Package looks

• “Green” labeling

• Date and price coding

• Overall product looks

• Bake quality

• Internal structure

• Toppings

• Aroma

• Flavor

• Aftertaste

• Mouthfeel

• Freshness or just-made taste

• Overall opinion