Monday, January 16, 2006

You Did Ask For My Opinion, Didn't You?

I was just minding my own business at the malls last Saturday afternoon when a smartly dressed young lady came up to me and asked me if I was willing to participate in a market survey that they were conducting. After making sure that I wasn’t setup for some televised prank ala “Candid Camera” (I’m that paranoid when it comes to strangers), I asked for more details about what the survey was about. It seems that a famous food-chain was testing out a new product and was looking for some public feedback about their new product. Having never been in a new product development food tasting study before, I was intrigued enough with the idea to agree to the offer. Although I may look like the type of guy who never turn down good food, I’m actually quite finicky about the food that I would eat so this was not done without a little bit of apprehension on my part.

They brought me over to the area where they have the food testing session set up and started with some preliminary questions. They started off with a few demographic questions and proceeded to get first impressions of the product from the descriptions and photos that they gave me. I won’t actually say here who was doing the product testing just in case it was suppose to be confidential but suffice to say that they were testing out a new pasta dish to add to their current menu. It was all good at that point for me. The product looked appealing, the description of the product was intriguing and pasta just happened to be one of my favorite food to eat in the world.

Once the pre tasting questionnaires were completed, they brought me a single portion to try out. Before I did, I was asked to eat a piece of plain crackers and a cup of plain water to cleanse the palate I’m guessing. My first impression of the dish was the lack of aroma that I was expecting from the ingredients that they said was in the dish from their earlier description. I could tell that they have not had a tester like me before that day since I had to explain why I was sniffing the pasta that was served to me. I don’t know if it’s just me but I do like to savor the aromas of something that I have never eaten before to try to figure out what’s in it and set the expectations of what I think it should taste like. I know that some people absolutely freak out when I do that in public.

The first mouthful was a disappointment because it was so off from my expectation of what it should be based on my first impression. I almost choked on the second mouthful as my throat started to revolt against the vile excuse of a pasta dish that I was trying to swallow. This was the first time in my life that I had to say no to pasta. It tasted like under boiled yellow noodles with some shrimp and vegetables, sprinkled with bits of raw garlic and dried chili flakes and then smothered with uncooked peanut oil. It was criminal to even call it pasta because it tasted no different from the oily instant fried noodle mix that they sell at the grocery shops. I was expecting for a light, tart, clean tasting and healthy dish but ended up tasting the worse thing I have ever tasted this year.

The marketer was clearly surprised at the extent of my reaction that she even called her team leader to sit in to hear out my feedback. I guess that some people can stomach the swill that they were trying to serve more that I could. We proceeded to go through all the questions that they had post tasting and I gave them more feedback of what I thought was wrong with the product. At that point, I felt that it was my duty as a concerned citizen not to allow this half-baked idea of a dish to be consumed by customers of this food chain in the future. I think that I spent almost more than half an hour giving all my feedback to them. It was lucky for me that the marketer team leader seemed very attentive to my feedback and asked all the pertinent questions to get the most of our session.

At the end of it, they asked if I would be willing to be a volunteer in future product testing. I jokingly told them that I would as long as they don’t try to poison me with bad food like this one. I left my business card with them and agreed that they can contact me for future food testing as needed. In a way, I’m doing my part in the civic duty of making sure bad food never makes it to the menu of the eating establishments in this country.

It beats signing up to join the Army at my age.

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