Consumer Taste Test

This educational activity is suitable for school or any type of youth (or even adult) group; I did it with Girl Scouts.  It is a great way to teach the principle that brand-name products aren’t necessarily any different from less expensive store brands.

Sometimes I add an activity to a Girl Scout badge, something that isn’t spelled out in the badge book but is thematically consistent and interesting.  I count it as one activity, along with the “official” ones, toward the total of four activities needed to complete a Brownie Try-It or six activities needed to complete a Junior badge.  I usually plan to do extra activities so that girls who miss a meeting still earn the badge.  We did this one as an added activity for the Penny Power Try-It:

Choose two kinds of food that are available in several brands and require minimal preparation. We picked O’s cereal and applesauce. (One thing we learned was that brands of applesauce don’t vary much…but that’s why we need not fear trying new brands to save money!) Our rule for the cereal was that if you put milk on one brand, you had to put it on all brands.

One leader buys 3 different brands of each food, removes the labels or puts them into plain containers, and labels them X, Y, and Z. She makes a key showing which brand is which and the price per serving, and keeps it hidden.

Divide girls into two teams. Team One serves cereal to Team Two; then Team Two serves applesauce to Team One. Provide pencils and paper so testers can make notes of their impressions, and water so they can rinse their mouths between samples. For each food, serve Brand X, wait until everyone has finished, then serve Brand Y, wait, then serve Brand Z. Servers may not sample a brand until all testers have been served.

After all brands of a food have been served, ask testers to share their opinions. How many thought X was best? Y? Z? Does anyone think she knows that one of the samples is a specific brand? Then unveil the key. Is the most expensive brand the best?

We served the food in tiny dessert dishes from the kitchen of the church where we meet, and the girls took turns washing dishes afterward. They enjoyed the whole elaborate procedure and were very excited to learn which brand was which.

The surprise twist was that one brand of O’s, although the entire front of the box gave the impression it was “plain” flavor, had added sugar. Most of the testers noticed this immediately; I was summoned from the kitchen with shouts of, “Ms. Stallings, you accidentally bought the honey-nut kind!” When I unveiled the boxes, they set out to read the label and find out what was different about it: “Hey! It says, ‘lightly sweetened’ in these tiny letters on the back, and it has FOUR TIMES as much sugar as the other brands!!” And the interesting thing was that only 1 out of 9 cereal testers rated that one the best; the others judged it “less oaty”.

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