For our October Sunday Assembly we explored the concept of money. We spoke of how money was an environmental factor that caused us to think about ourselves, others and the wider needs of society differently. We spoke about loss aversion and how this primitive environmental urge not to waste resources distorts our use of money and especially on how we feel about losing it. We touched upon how we struggle to understand the true values of things. That we can be so easily convinced to buy things that we don't really need through the influence of compliance and others playing on our insecurities. We also discovered the reasons why lesbians are the only people who actually benefit from buying perfumes.
We also tried to put the National Lottery into the context of other risks. If we were to get excited by the prospect of winning the Lottery we should be also living in fear of dying while getting out of bed in the morning, as that daily risk is 1000 times more likely than winning that £10,000,000 prize.
But enough words, we had an experiment to do. We blind tested four products in the categories of bananas, salted crisps and baked beans. Can people taste the difference between the premium and economy brands?
At the assembly we revealed which products were our favourites and here, after deeper analysis of the results, we can show a more nuanced interpretation of those results.
In the chart below the blue column shows a count of how often a product was voted as a favorite, the red columns when it was voted as the most disliked, and its average score in orange.
Walkers was most people’s favourite and Tyrrells most people most disliked. But the most interesting score is the average, where all products basically score the same.
Salt Content Examining the salt content of each we discover that the least favoured, Tyrrells, has roughly half the salt of the other 3. And the popular Walkers has the most. At this point one might jump to the conclusion that salt content is driving people’s preferences. Then we look at Waitrose Essentials and see that the pattern has fail. Anyway, we should give credit to Tyrrells for the healthy status of its crisps, maybe.
Sugar Content Now, onto sugar. Oh, Tyrrells has nearly 4 times as much as the others. Interestingly, there is no added sugar on the Tyrrells ingredients, so, one must assume the sugar is from the variety of potato they use. As now sugar is taking over as public enemy number 1, perhaps, we should be wary of the previous healthy recommendation.
Let’s talk about everyone's favourite - price. The advice: if you want most people to think your crips are great, get Walkers. But if your concern is only keeping most people satisfied you might as well get the cheaper Waitrose Essentials. Paying double for Tyrrells or Kettle will not impress your guests, unless you show them the packet. But you’re not that sort of person.
Waitrose Essentials was most people’s favourite by a fair margin, and St Lucia's most people most disliked. Again, regarding the average, where all products became much more similar.
All bananas were 23% sugar except the Duchy Organics at 20%.
As you can see, in terms of taste and price the Waitrose Essentials are the best buy, although you may feel better buying their Fair Trade version and they are nearly as popular. The St Lucia bananas are best left for a kids party where most of it ends up on the floor. Duchy Organic are the most expensive, and you maybe willing to pay that extra if you believe there are virtuals in organics, and like giving direct support to the monarchy in these hard times
All beans were served hot.
This has the most surprising of the results.
The Branstone beans were by far the most favoured and the Sunday Assembly crowd really didn’t like the Heinz beans. But again the average score smooths the preferences out somewhat.
That’s a lot of salt in the Branstons. The healthy option is looking like Waitrose Essentials.
And Branston again wins, or is that loses, in sugar, and once again Waitrose Essentials is lowest. It should be noted that Heinz Organic has more sugar in than its non-organic version, especially as people may be persuaded that because it is organic it will be a healthier product.
All cans were 415g. One will pay 3 times the price for Heinz Organic in respect to Waitrose Essentials even though the Essentials are more prefered and lower in salt and sugar. Branston comes in as good value although that might is tainted by its very high salt and sugar content.
Making the results more meaningful
These results were gathered in about 15 minutes with only the participation of about 65 Sunday Assemblers, each having a one time taste of each product. Allowing participants to try products multiple times would remove bias in the order people tried them and give some compensation for participants inconsistency in their opinions.
Running the test again while having the participants unblinded would give an indication of how important the packaging is for a product. Maybe the best cause of action is to buy cheap products and then lie to our families on what they are eating at the dinner table, It would be interesting to have data on the participant's’ sex and age to examine if that relates to choices.
Price seems a very poor indicator of how a product is received taste wise. There is a suspicion that are preferences are aligned to sugar and salt levels but those responses are not straightforward.
The price of organic products has little relationship to passing the taste test, and in simple sugar and salt levels, as an indicator healthiness, they also fail to meet expectations. The evidence of salt and sugar on the impact of on our health is considerably stronger than that of any difference between the methods of traditional and organic farming practices.
The average score indicate that products are designed to meet a wide spectrum of tastes, and creating a “best” product is an impossibility when people have such different taste buds. Merely judging products on a ‘first pass the post’ basis, most or least favoured, gives a false impression of that product’s appeal.
Maybe if ‘first past the post’ is a poor way to judge bananas it may also a bad way to judge people.