The Case of the Flavor-Obsessed Frenchman

Marc pondered … was the French desire for stable “bite”-flavor1 in toothpaste, universal?

Marc’s Problem

Marc observed that French toothpaste manufacturers prize “bite”-flavor in their product. Toothpaste consumers want the “bite” level stable from tube to tube. As Product Manager, Marc wants to expand his toothpaste additives platform. This could be an opportunity to launch a modified additive with broad appeal.

His firm’s R&D group is exploring a modification of their core toothpaste additive. The modification is intended to stabilize flavor’s performance. He needs to understand if toothpaste manufacturers want this modification.

Marc’s Solution

Marc wants an outsider’s view of the modification. He knew of my expertise in voice-of-the-customer research. Marc hired me to figure out the modified additive’s acceptance by the toothpaste industry’s market system.

Marc, and the R&D group met with me to frame the project.

Project Frame

Project addresses the following issues:

1. What flavor issues are important to toothpaste makers Why?

2.  What tactics help acceptance, by toothpaste makers, of a new additive.

Executive Summary: Flavor-Stabilizing Thickener for Toothpaste

All respondents heard this description of the client’s new additive.

“ I’m on assignment from a client that has developed a new toothpaste ingredient. It has positive effects on flavor performance.”

Forty-one respondents entered into deep interviews with me.2

  1. Flavor Issues
    Highest Priority
    : For 70% of consumers, a pleasing flavor experience is the reason to buy the second tube of a new toothpaste.
    “Pleasing flavor” is a complex interaction in the mouth.
    • Peppermint EN1 — most important and globally pleasing flavor.
    • In France and Germany, and in the 18 – 25 yr./old demographic, consumers like extra levels of L-menthol —“bite.”

”Once you establish experience that delights a toothpaste consumer, you want to maintain that experience. You do nothing to spoil the consumer’s perception of the flavor.”
     Chief Flavorist … Colgate-Palmolive

Medium Priority: Cost — 1% by wt. of formulation. Yet, >30% of chemical cost. Brand equity in a toothpaste’s distinctive flavor profile outweighs lower cost.

”George, We’ve been down many roads on modifying floors of existing brands to cut the cost of flavor. Yet, toothpaste manufacturers wouldn’t make the formulation changes. They were afraid of the risk of upsetting consumers.
Your client will waste their time trying to cut flavor costs in existing brands.”
     Director, Customer Services … International Flavors & Fragrances

Must Have: US regulatory approval of new flavor ingredient in a brand’s formulation.


2. What tactics can help acceptance of a new additive by toothpaste manufacturers.

Toothpaste manufacturers interviewed3 showed interest in the client’s additive. They wanted to use the additive in new brands..

  • They said new brands help test the market for new flavor perceptions.
    • Why? Their hidden agenda is to receive a patent blocking use of the additive by competitors.

”My advice to your client is to work with other suppliers of toothpaste ingredients. Buyers at toothpaste manufacturers trust supplier’s networks.
Flavor houses are good possibilities, as are abrasive suppliers.”
     Dir., Oral Care Department … Henkel


Marc, the R&D group, and their bosses discussed the project’s findings. They decided, given the brand dynamics of the toothpaste market system, to stop work on the additive. To them, continuing work looked like a long trudge to an unrewarding future.


1 Tasting occurs through the taste buds of the tongue. “Bite” happens when the toothpaste flavor is a peppermint oil blend. One part of the blend, L-menthol in high concentrations, produces “bite”. Peppermint oils come from two species of the mint plant.

”There are several levels in getting from the mint grower into the toothpaste tube. First, the grower. Then, the broker/buyer who buys oil from several sources. And, blends to produce the peppermint flavor wanted by the toothpaste brand manager.”
     Technical Director … Mint Industry Research Council

2 My key skills for this project


Recognizing Early Adopters

3 Toothpaste manufacturers Interviewed: Amway, Colgate, Kolynos, Laclede, McBride P&G, SmithKline Beecham, Unilever, Wybert