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The San Francisco Chronicle reports on the use of focus groups in determining consumer reactions to different kinds of foods.

Focus groups, the newspaper writes, are a $1.1 billion business and "are an integral part of product development at multiple phases of the cycle, from initial conception to prototype to final production." Some 218,000 were conducted in the United States in 2002 - though this was an almost three percent drop from 2001, the first time in five years that the number of focus groups in the US decreased.

Part of the reason for the decline may be the economy, and there also is the growth of online focus groups to contend with. However, experts say that while Internet focus groups are cheap, fast and efficient, they also miss the eyeball contact - "the verbal signals, interchanges, back and forth between people" that cannot be duplicated online.
KC's View:
We've never understood why more food retailers don't do focus groups about their stores, their product offerings, their marketing and merchandising approaches to the business. They claim to be in touch with the customer, but our sense is that this "touch" is connected more to sales figures and SKU movement than any sort of real connection to customer needs and desires.

Would it be fair to suggest that most food retailers - in fact, most retailers - are kidding themselves about how well they really know the customer?

We think so.