The Science of Taste

Malcolm Gladwell on the perfect Pepsis, perfect pickles, and the rise of Prego spaghetti sauce:

It’s quite old — September 2006 if the website’s datestamp is right — but interesting.  The idea that the perfect spaghetti sauce was the thin, tasteless, culturally authentic “Ragu” style was universal until about twenty years ago, when a Harvard PhD came across the seemingly obvious notion that different people liked different things and revolutionized several industries.

The notion that the difference between a coffee aimed at pleasing everyone versus one aimed at pleasing various taste clusters is both one of small variation and immense pleasure outputs is likewise obvious in hindsight but essentially ignored by the industry until quite recently is also quite astounding.

Yet I can vividly recall a time — which existed through my young adulthood — when one kind of Coke, one kind of spaghetti sauce, and one kind of coffee were all that were available on a mass scale.

via Tom Smith

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    I think I saw that when it came out. It is good … but if I recall correctly it doesn’t name the darker side of variation … that one brand can crowd out all others (buying shelf space from the store of course).

    I used to have the choice of a few genuine brands of electrolyte replacement drinks … now I’ve got 8 flavors of Gatoraide or whatever.

  2. It may also have a lot to do with manufacturing and distribution capabilities which are a lot more sophisticated now than they were twenty or thirty years ago. I remember not being able to get fresh fish in most (midwestern) grocery stores until the 80s.

  3. Bithead says:

    And yet history also gives us the overt and nearly violent rejection of ‘new coke’.

    I suppose to take his point on that comparison further, though, had Ragu come up with a major formulation change, and said this *one* type, is the “new Ragu”, it would have been rejected loudly as well… no matter what the change consisted of.

    I wonder if that comparison cannot be extrapolated somehow into the political. Follow me, on this.

    Granted that not everyone liked OLD coke, and New Coke was an attempt to capture the market of those people. The ones who WERE satisfied with old coke becaame disenchanted with Coke as a brand, following that attempted change.

    Transport us to the political realm. Can the same be said for Republicans, who have been trying to change their baseline formulae for years, to ‘capture the middle’ as it were…most recently with Bushes 41 and 43 and then with McCain, and have moved away from what their base wants… actual conservatism… ?

    Where this comparison becmes a broken, however, is how one can be all things to all people as Coke, Ragu, Prego, etc have become due to people like Moskovitz. (Sp?)

    A variety of commodity is a far easier sell… certainly, less damaging to the company… than a variety of ideals, and the resulting damage to the party. The causes of dissatisfaction is fairly similar between the two realms and certainly as damaging, I think, but is the path out of that disatisfaction? I doubt it.

  4. Eric says:

    Jeezuz Christ, Bitsy. Can’t spaghetti sauce just be spaghetti sauce? Are you that far gone into delusion that even pasta sauce is a backdoor liberal conspiracy?

    Oy!

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Yet I can vividly recall a time — which existed through my young adulthood — when one kind of Coke, one kind of spaghetti sauce, and one kind of coffee were all that were available on a mass scale.

    I think that the multiplying in choices that’s occurred over the last couple of decades is the “reckless consumerism” that our European cousins have been complaining about in us. One kind of everything is so much easier for central planners.

    Charles de Gaulle put it well more than 50 years ago: “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” Or spaghetti sauce?

  6. John Burgess says:

    Odograph: I wonder how many of those myriad brands have been bought up by Gatorade and are now represented by a different color of Gatorade? All under one brand, but still unique, in other words.

  7. Bithead says:

    Jeezuz Christ, Bitsy. Can’t spaghetti sauce just be spaghetti sauce? Are you that far gone into delusion that even pasta sauce is a backdoor liberal conspiracy?

    (Chuckle)
    Conspiracy? Heck, no. You took a left somewhere back there.

    What the man is talking about, though is how personal preferences are formed and maintained.

    Moskovitz’ arguments are apparently correct about choices of food. Doesn’t it make sense to question if the theory works in other types of choices, as well, for example, cars, stereo equipment, computers, (Insert product name here) and, yes, politics? What after all is politics to a large degree, but packaging and salesmanship? I suppose there are already political consultants who have examined this question, and made a fair living off the answer.