In a tasting of sports energy gels by the independent Quality Institute International, GU gel came out on top based on taste and texture as judged by a panel of chefs.
According to the institute, where taste-tests are done by its American Tasting Institute division, seven different companies' energy gels were tasted in a double-blind procedure.
"They won by a pretty good margin," said a spokesman for the San Francisco, Calif.-based, company that has awarded its Gold Medal "Best of the Best" award for 17 years.
The institute (www.awardsamericas.com) defines a food category, decides on national companies that manufacture within that category, and then secures product for the tasting panel, said Mark Oldham, senior vice president of sales. The panel members (all certified chefs) use five to seven criteria and rate the items on a scale of one to 100. Depending on the item being tasted, the criteria include taste, flavor (it may taste good, but not really taste like what it says it is, Oldham said), texture/mouth feel, freshness, aroma and an overall rating. Each of the six to eight panel members' scores are averaged for each SKU, then the total per SKU for the panel is averaged, resulting in the top product.
Only one Gold Medal is awarded, and that company then may pay the Quality Institute an annual licensing fee to use the award in its marketing, PR and packaging. That fee is based on a sliding scale based on the company's previous 52 weeks of sales, and ranges from about $7,500 to 10 times that, Oldham said. If the winning company decides not to license the ability to use the award, he said, no other company -- such as a runner-up -- may do that. In that case, another tasting will be done the next year. The names of other companies in a tasting and all scores are not revealed so Company A can't advertise that it beat Company B, Oldham said.
GU recognizes that the taste-testing says nothing about its gel's performance, but that doesn't diminish the merit of the award since it could help grow the entire category to non-core users, said Will Garratt, vice president of marketing for GU's Sports Street Marketing company.
"We spend a lot of time on taste, but now we can say we are the best tasting," Garratt told SNEWS. "It was a pat on our backs.
"For the entire category to grow, we have to bring in new users -- all those runners and cyclists out there who don't perceive themselves as hard-core endurance athletes," Garratt said. "But GU isn't for any one type of person, it's for the body during exercise. And for that (less hard-core) category, taste really matters."
SNEWS View: We don't want to diminish the award given to GU for its taste, which is certainly good. But it has always seemed odd to us when a company gives somebody an award, but the recipient can't tell anybody about it until a fee is paid. Seems like a bit of a scam to us no matter how good a winning company's products may be. Now, this award is so well established that the gold seal on packaging does apparently increase purchase potential, according to reports from past winning licensees. So perhaps a few thousand dollars is a worthwhile promotion, especially if GU can leverage the award to increase sales not only for itself but also for the category. But let's step back a moment and imagine the testing: A gourmet chef squeezing a dribble of GU gel into one of those mini-testing spoons, licking it down and going, "Oh yummy!" Then heading gleefully out for a run because he or she is so, well, energized.