Case Study

Online Communities for New Product Launch Using IHUTS With Hard-to-Reach Targets


Interest in non-dairy versions of common dairy products, like milk and cheese, has expanded in recent years among consumers looking to eat better and lead healthier lives. This behavior change has spurred innovation as brands—including those who have traditionally focused on dairy-based products—expand to reach these consumers.

Our client, a well-known cheese manufacturer, sought C+R’s help in getting to know non-dairy consumers, including vegans, flexitarians, and those seeking to reduce the amount of dairy they consume.

C+R created a pre-recruited online community of non-dairy users and assisted our client in conducting several rounds of in-home usage tests (IHUTs). The online community provided our client with a ready-made group of consumers to test new product ideas and obtain quick pulse checks going forward.


Engaging Hard-to-Reach Participants in Ongoing Research

Our client, a cheese manufacturer, was interested in launching a new plant-based dairy brand and needed to quickly understand consumers’ interest and attitudes surrounding these types of products.

Specifically, they wanted feedback from consumers who had decreased or eliminated their use of dairy, including vegans, flexitarians, and dairy reducers. The client team had attempted to conduct this research on their own, but they’d struggled to reach the consumer target.

Via the research, our client hoped to:

  • Understand motivations, attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions about the non-dairy and vegan food space
  • Identify unmet needs/desires related to products in the non-dairy/vegan food space
  • Dig deep into consumers’ mindsets to inform current and emerging initiatives

Additionally, the team wanted to be able to compare across key consumer types—specifically dairy reducers and vegans—to better understand differing (or similar) points of view.


Leveraging an Online Community to Optimize Plant-Based Recipes

To help our client answer their questions, we created an online community with 500 hard-to-reach non-dairy users, including a mix of vegans, flexitarians, and dairy reducers. The non-dairy users were 18+ years old and included a mix of males and females. All were willing to participate in a year-long community and complete 2-3 studies per month. 

Early in the community’s existence, we engaged consumers to evaluate, optimize, and validate potential branding for the client’s new plant-based cheese offering. All branding elements, including name and design were created and tested using this community. 

During the life of the community, research included five quick and cost-efficient IHUTs, as well as iterative IHUTs. For the initial IHUTs, C+R safely shipped refrigerated products to participants, who each evaluated 2-5 products using immersive qualitative and media tools. Leveraging earlier findings, the client team then reformulated its products for up to three rounds of iterative testing per product. Iterative IHUTs quickly led to an optimized plant-based cheese product.

The result

A New Brand and Product Offerings

C+R created an engaging community to fit the target’s unique mindset and build on the social glue that already united them as consumers. In order to capture thoughts across the various aspects and phases, a variety of methods were used, including surveys, polls, journal entries and video testimonials. To maintain participant attention throughout, C+R developed a member-generated section, diverse forum discussions, and monthly member spotlights.

As a result of the research program, the client team bolstered their insights surrounding this hard-to-reach target and developed a new brand and series of product offerings. Through open, ongoing connections with consumers, the client team was exposed to consumer needs and mindsets quickly, as they arose. Additionally, testing products via IHUTs allowed for back-and-forth rounds across formulas, and efficient and thorough recipe validation.

proven experience

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