Do you know what makes your favorite spaghetti sauce so tasty? Howard Moskowitz probably does. His research into spaghetti sauce and horizontal segmentation in the food industry changed the way that new products are created.
Moskowitz graduated from Harvard in 1969 with a Ph.D. in experimental psychology before embarking on a career as a pioneer in experimental psychophysics and market research. He has invented world-class market research technology to disrupt the traditional food industry, creating new product categories, segmentation, and brands that drive growth and profit for their parent companies.
Moskowitz has worked with billion-dollar global brands such as Chunky Tomato Sauce, Goodyear AquaTread tire, the Braun electric toothbrush, and even the acquired taste of cherry vanilla Dr. Pepper! He has “optimized” soups, pizzas, salad dressings, and pickles, and aims to find the "bliss point" in the products he works with — the ultimate combination of ingredients to maximize customer satisfaction.
Much of his food industry success can be traced back to his first job after graduation, working with the US Army to develop meals, ready-to-eat. In this role, he put forward the idea of "sensory-specific-satiety" (that people tend to get bored of strong flavors more rapidly) and helped formulate recipes to ensure that soldiers got enough calories from their meals.
Moskowitz is currently the CEO of i-Novation Inc., as well as president of Moskowitz Jacobs Inc., a firm that he founded in 1981. He also works as an advisor to TAMP Inc., helping them build a global community in aesthetic medicine, and is the founder and chairman of MindCart AI, an organization he started to democratize access to the research methods and techniques that have driven his own success with brands over the years.
As well as smashing assumptions and breaking molds in the food industry, Howard is a prolific writer. He’s written or edited 16 books, published over 300 journal articles, and sits on the editorial boards of numerous major industry journals.
His most recent book, the fabulously-titled Selling Blue Elephants, is all about finding inspiration for new products and messages from surprising and seemingly unrelated sources, such as credit cards, presidential election messages, and the stock markets!
As you might expect, someone who has had such a profound impact has also been recognized with awards galore. His accolades include awards from the European Society of Market Research, the David R. Peryam Award, the Charles Coolidge Parlin Marketing Research Award, the Advertising Research Foundation’s Research Innovation Award, and The Market Research Council Hall of Fame Award.
The brands Moskowitz has worked with over the years are well known around the world, but he is probably best known for his pioneering work with spaghetti sauce.
In the 1980s, Prego-brand spaghetti sauce was struggling to compete with Ragu, the market leader. Moskowitz made a hugely detailed study of over 40 types of spaghetti sauce, categorizing them by every conceivable measure, and analyzing huge amounts of data around customer satisfaction.
He discovered that pretty much every American fell into one of three categories when it came to sauce: plain, spicy, and extra-chunky. At the time, there were no extra-chunky sauce brands on the market. Prego reformulated their sauce and dominated the market over the next ten years, making $600 million off their line of extra-chunky sauces.
Behind this story are the concepts of horizontal segmentation and Intermarket variability. Moskowitz’s discovery was that there is not a single bell curve of a market for most products, nor is there an infinite variety of tastes. He found that there are instead finite numbers of horizontal customer segments in every market.
Moskowitz’s research and discoveries in spaghetti sauce and horizontal segmentation helped move the food industry from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that embraces the diversity and difference in customer tastes.
This concept is not unlike the customer-driven development approach taken by agile teams and shows how seemingly unrelated industries can have a huge impact on one another.
Following Moskowitz’s breakthroughs, brands began to accept the idea that it wasn’t their job to define what pasta sauce or fizzy drinks were, but rather to listen to what their customers were saying they wanted and responding to the idiosyncrasies of human taste.
Moskowitz has written 16 books, mostly on market research, and these offer a great introduction to his views and theories. He is also a prolific journal writer and has contributed over 300 articles to major sector journals. He is a regular speaker at conferences, many of which are available on YouTube.
He’s also on Twitter, but very rarely posts.
But it’s not just Moskowitz you can turn to for insights on his life’s work. He’s also a common talking point in podcasts and conference presentations — from the world of marketing and beyond.
Moskowitz was the topic of conversation between Malcolm Gladwell and Guy Raz in an NPR TED Radio Hour episode (give it a listen here), following Gladwell’s 2006 TED talk, "Choice, Happiness, and spaghetti sauce". And the "Success Made to Last" series also put the spotlight on Moskowitz earlier this year, in an episode available via Spotify.