The expression THIS IS A TEST has very real meaning in one Midwest city, and implications for the rest of us. Tracy Smith serves up our story:
In the high security test kitchen at Wendy's International, they're working on what they hope will be the next big thing: the Black Label Burger. But don't start drooling just yet. Before it goes to your town, it first has to make the grade here: Columbus, Ohio.
If this were an actual product test, there'd be no cameras allowed, but Wendy's agreed to show us the process. White-coated food technicians do the cooking, and send the samples to volunteer tasters who grade it on things like onion flavor and messiness. Mmmm!
It's the last step before it goes out to the test market, and Senior VP Lori Estrada has high hopes: "We're still waiting on our consumer scores, but I'm anticipating based on what we know going into this that they're going to be great," she told Smith.
The test burger then goes to a real Wendy's. Even when it's on the menu here, spokesman Denny Lynch says they're still fine-tuning: "No question. We're fine-tuning all the way to the time we say, 'We're ready to pull the trigger and it's going to go national."
It looked like the test audience was already biting.
When asked what he thought about being a "guinea pig" in their test market, Bruce said, "I'm happy to be a guinea pig. I liked it."
Test marketers' "guinea pigs": A cross-section of the public in Columbus, Ohio.
And the so-called "guinea pigs" come in all demographics here. With Ohio State and dozens of other colleges, the student population here is massive, and there's a strong international presence. It all adds up to a near-perfect cross-section of the country's consumers.
It's Middle America - but that doesn't mean it's average. "I often say if you raked America together, you'd find Columbus," said Alex Fischer of the Columbus Partnership.
"You have this interesting blend of a funky culture - creativity, diversity - and a corporate culture that really mix it up," Fischer said. "And I think that's really what makes us a unique test bed, as opposed to being average."
So if an idea can make it here, it can make it - well, you know . . .
Like Jeni's Ice Cream,for example. Their cayenne pepper flavor is just one of the flavors tried out here. It's a big seller.
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