What Can Butter Teach Us About Meeting Customer Needs With New Product Research?
Back in the early 1950’s, homemakers had a lot of complaints about store-bought bread. They would complain that their knives would rip through the bread when they put butter on it. “We need bread that is stronger, that can withstand the pressure of the knife. Give us more gluten in the flour.” That was the solution they suggested.
Meanwhile, Lillian Gilbreth (AKA “The Mother of Ergonomics”) decided to take an ethnographic approach.
“We need to go into their homes to fully understand this.” While there, Lillian began to notice a trend. She observed sticks of butter on countertops. She asked the homemakers why they weren’t being refrigerated, and got to the real issue.
Women were storing a stick of butter on the countertop so that it would be soft enough to spread without damaging their bread.
But, there was a compromise – they were concerned about the safety and spoilage of the butter, so they would throw it away after a few days, concerned that it would make their family sick.
They don’t really want heartier bread, What they want is softer butter.
– Lillian Gilbreth Finding
At the same time, food scientists were developing technology to make oil-based spreads that were softer than butter. They tasted close to butter and were a suitable replacement for baking, but those homemakers that appreciated the rich flavor of pure butter could tell the difference, and they were not amused.
This would solve their bread problem, but still wouldn’t give them what they really wanted.
Lillian looked to the complete kitchen environment for potential solutions. “If only the butter could be stored in the refrigerator for the long term, but not get so cold that it is hard to spread, these consumers’ frustrations would be eliminated.” She was inspired to create a warmer refrigerated area.