The View From The Mezzanine: The Stonewall Kitchen Tasting Process

In our last post, we discussed taste and how incredibly complex of a topic it is. To try and make a product appeal to a large number of people for a long period of time (like Roasted Garlic Onion Jam, for example) is quite a challenge. So how do products go from being an idea in our Research and Development Laboratory to a product on our shelf? Let’s explore!

North Conway Billboard_Roasted Garlic Onion Jam_G

It starts with research. For example, for a Thai inspired marinade, research would commence on common spices and flavorings for that region. Once an idea is formed with a list of ingredients, we go right to the stove and work on a benchtop prototype (a “test recipe”). The prototype has to survive many challenges, such as scale-up testing, pH and Brix adjustments, costing and many others. Sometimes it takes many trials before we consider it ready to take to the next level, our sensory panel.

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Our sensory panel consists of a group of roughly 24 employees from all different departments across Stonewall Kitchen. It is important to have a variety of tasters, since our guests all have different tastes as well. In order to be a part of the sensory panel, our employees have to answer a survey that reflects their interests in foods. Those that are selected for the panel then go through advanced training which includes: how tasting works, how the sampling form is used, the five basic tastes and how to evaluate appearance, texture, aroma, etc. Training typically takes place yearly.

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Each week, on Mondays and Thursdays at 11:30 am and 2:30 pm, our group gets together to sample. It is very important that at each sampling as many people participate as possible to get the most realistic evaluation of a product. Employees score products on a scale from 1-9 on visual, texture and flavor elements (flavor, of course, being the most important). We look for detailed constructive feedback – if someone doesn’t like a product, why don’t they like it? Is it missing an ingredient? Too much of something that is overpowering? This helps us narrow down the problem so we can go back to the lab and fix it.

For a product to make it to the “next round” and earn it’s keep on our launch list, the average score needs to be an 8 or above. If the product scores below an 8, we go back to the lab and make the changes that a majority of employees suggest on their score sheets. This process continues until the product achieves at least an 8, or a sample is deemed not feasible at the time. For most companies using a 9 point scale, anything that scores a 7 or above would be considered approved. However, we hold higher standards for our products and will only accept an 8 or higher.

As you can see, we work diligently all year long to bring exciting and delicious new products to our guests bi-annually. Stay tuned for exclusive details on what we’re cooking up for the July 2015 launch! We promise, you won’t be disappointed.

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