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The IKEA effect is the name given to the observation that we generally tend to like things (e.g. bits of furniture) more if we make them ourselves1. The same is true when it comes to our perception of food too. In fact, Finnish researchers recently had people in the lab rate the taste of a chicken tikka dish. The participants were either led to believe that they were tasting the dish that they had had a hand in making themselves, or else that they were tasting one that had been made by someone else. Across three experiments, people rated the food they thought they had made themselves as tasting better than the food they believed had been made by someone else. What the participants didn’t know, though, was that they were tasting exactly the same dish on both occasions!2

According to urban myth, sales of cake mix really took off back in the middle of the last century when one of Madison Avenue’s marketing magicians, Louis Cheskin, figured out that simply having North American housewives add an egg to the mix would help to involve them more in the baking process, and so perhaps result in the cake tasting better (at least to them). One finds this story repeated everywhere; Even the great writer Michael Pollan mentions it in his best-selling book Cooked: A natural history of transformation3. No doubt it makes for a great story. The only problem is that it simply isn’t true. For, it turns out that it was actually a different kind of customisation that made all the difference. It was when the home-bakers were encouraged to start decorating the cakes that they were making themselves (in the 1950s) that the sales of cake mix really started to take-off4.

Personalisation has become big business these days. For instance, sales of Coca-Cola increased for the first time in years when they started selling personalised bottles with people’s first names emblazoned on the label in 2013. Since then, many other food and drinks brands have tried to get in on the personalisation bandwagon, by enabling their customers to put their own name or picture on the packaging of their favourite products.

The amazing thing is that personalisation really does make food and drink taste better5. If you don’t believe me just think about how your coffee always seems to taste better out of your own favourite mug than out of someone else’s. It is personalisation that makes the birthday cake taste better to whoever’s lucky day it is than to anyone else. Based on the latest gastrophysics research, the prediction is also that women called Victoria will probably like their namesake sponge that little bit more than people with any other name. And I am sure, by now, that you can guess who might be especially fond of a slice of Charlotte cake.

So, the challenge for the professional baker is how to get your customers more involved in the food products you sell. My suggestion is that any act of personalisation, no matter how small, will likely enhance their perception of whatever baked goods you might happen to be purveying.

References below

1

Norton, M. I., Mochon, D., & Ariely, D. (2012). The IKEA Effect: When labor leads to love. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22, 453-460.

2

Troye, S. V., & Supphellen, M. (2012). Consumer participation in coproduction: “I made it myself” effects on consumers’ sensory perceptions and evaluations of outcome and input product. Journal of Marketing, 76, 33-46.

3

Pollan, M. (2013). Cooked: A natural history of transformation. London, UK: Penguin Books.

4

Park, M. Y. (2013). A history of the cake mix, the invention that redefined ‘baking.’ Bon Appétit, September 26th. http://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/pop-culture/article/cake-mix-history; Shapiro, S. (2005). Something from the oven: Reinventing dinner in 1950s America. London, UK: Penguin

5

Spence, C. (2017). Gastrophysics: The new science of eating. London, UK: Penguin.

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