Who is Canstar Blue?
"We all like to ask our friends and family about a product or brand before buying, and with Canstar Blue, it’s like asking thousands of people for their opinions before you get out your cash." Canstar Blue website
I don't know if you have noticed the Canstar Blue logo on various supermarket products of late? Indeed at Aldi you will find the logo somewhere near the entrance, because yet again it has been given the best supermarket award. Best in the sense of customer satisfaction that is and various sub categories of that - such as value for money, variety, customer service, layout and so on. Indeed all of their awards are supposedly based on customer satisfaction. Personally I think this is a bit suss - the supermarket award because every individual supermarket is different and so dependent on size, location, the staff and the individual manager. There might be overall rules form Head Office, but how they get translated on the floor can be quite different. And the product range definitely varies from store to store, depending on size and demographics.
So I wondered whether this was a reliable source of recommendation, or whether it is a purely commercial thing that I should absolutely ignore.
Well I have now investigated a bit and I think the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Like just about everything in life it seems to me.
Canstar Blue is part of Canstar - a company begun back in 1992 by husband and wife Andrew Willink and wife Annabelle Chaplain. I think Annabelle is still actively involved in the company but Andrew Willink has stepped down from the CEO and Managing Director thing. I suspect they are still the majority shareholders however. And it is a privately owned company, not an offshoot of any other company. The company began as a comparison site for all manner of financial services, and it still does this. It is Australia's largest comparison site.
Canstar Blue was begun 11 years ago - an expansion I suppose, and it covers much more than groceries on the shelf, household appliances and, tyres for some reason, are also covered. I'm just looking at groceries though - and all the basics are covered but of course not everything. Anyway today, having just been for a bit of a shop, during which we succumbed to buying some hot cross buns I have chosen them as my example product.
We were in Coles, and I have already decided that the Coles ones are the best available from the supermarkets here anyway, but it seems that Canstar Blue has confirmed this. They have the 2021 award for hot cross buns. However, there are only four competitors in this award - basically the four supermarket chains. Obviously they cannot check on every little bakery, but they could have checked out Baker's Delight and maybe there are other makes. Does Sara Lee do hot cross buns?
This is clearly stated though, so you can't really complain about that. They rate them for overall satisfaction, taste, freshness, value for money and variety and Coles got five stars in every category except value for money. Define value - if cheap gives you something that doesn't taste good, then is it value? Debatable I guess, depending on how much money you have to spend. Besides the price goes up and down depending on whether they are on a special or not.
And how many people were surveyed to come to this conclusion? Well they use a market research company called Qualtrics and for this product:
"Canstar Blue surveyed more than 3,000 Australian adults across a range of categories to measure and track customer satisfaction, via ISO 26362 accredited research panels managed by Qualtrics. The outcomes reported are the results from customers within the survey group who have purchased and eaten supermarket branded hot cross buns in the last three months, in this case, 1,729 people." Canstar Blue website
So 1729 people in the whole of Australia were surveyed. Now I do know that there are ways of ensuring that your survey sample covers all the required bases - young, old, rich, poor, etc. etc. so this is probably valid. They also say that a brand cannot get into their ratings unless they have at least 30 responses, so maybe that covers my comment about not including Baker's Delight. I guess we all mostly buy our hot cross buns in a supermarket.
Now we can quibble about this being a very select group. But is it? I mean the big gourmet produce awards that happen every year - sponsored by delicious. have a handful of judges. Big names, yes, but still just four or five people. And you could also argue that they are experts and don't represent ordinary people. It's the same with any food awards isn't it? They are all judged by a very few people - experts usually. This is the real problem with food I think - it's such a subjective thing. Taste is a very personal thing. You can't test it in the same way that you can test a dishwasher. Yes you can test what's in it and the production methods that way, but not how it actually tastes.
So overall I think the testing process is sort of OK - just bear in mind that even if 1729 people liked Coles best (well probably not all 1729 - but the majority anyway) - you might actually prefer Woolworths offering.
Their page/report on the hot cross buns does more though. They also checked on what kind of hot cross buns were favourite - the classic one - and also whether we like them being available all year, how we ate them and other such important questions - all represented in this clear and quite attractive little chart.
There was really quite a lot of information there - well not what was in them and how they were made - but nevertheless it was fairly comprehensive. They even told you who was responsible for the report - one Tahnee-Jae Lopez-Vito, whose photo appears below. Whether you think her name is ridiculous or not, and whether you like the look of her or not, you have to admit that if you want to really complain about anything in this report you do know who is responsible. They tell you a little bit about her too.
Last but not least, in case you are wondering, how does Canstar make its money from all of this? You can access all the information for free after all. Well they explain this too.
There are no ads on the sight - well they say there are a few but always noted as being sponsored. I notice that at the bottom of the Canstar Blue Home Page they note 'As Seen On' various media outlets.
I think they mostly make money from the fact that if you win an award you are entitled to show that on your product - and for that you pay. Interestingly the actual hot cross buns in Coles did not have the award on them, although if you go to Coles online and look at hot cross buns - the first picture that comes up - shown up above - has the award on it. I imagine for factory packaged items such as cheese for example (I don't know who has awards for this) then it might well appear. Mind you the status changes every year, so maybe they don't bother. It must cost money to set it up after all. Anyway to be allowed to do this will cost you money. You can also see from the hot cross buns results shown below that beside each result there is a button linking to each supermarket - that will cost money too. So I suppose - yes the supermarkets are indirectly paying for all of this, although I assume they have no influence over the actual results.
So can we be guided by a Canstar award? Well yes and no. A rough guide perhaps, but no more. It's all so personal and some cynics such as this Reddit commenter are much more disparaging.
"Personally, I take any review site with a mountain of salt. The number of them that either A) give general reviews based on spec sheets, not actual use B) get kickbacks from manufacturers and C) use bots to create fake reviews, completely turns me off bothering to find the few that might be reliable." Reddit commenter - Gazpacho_Catapult
I think the Canstar process is probably as fair as such a process can be really. It doesn't look like they do any of the things that Gazpacho_Catapult is moaning about. It's just a matter of whether you are going to trust anyone else's opinion about what is best anyway.