Design

User Testing the Holiday Snack Mix

I don’t think people outside of Texas call it anything but “snack mix,” but in Texas, we call it “Texas Trash.” That salty, sometimes-sweet, sometimes-spicy mix of cereal, pretzels, and nuts was a Holiday staple in my youth. Somewhere along the way, the cereal company Chex got smart about it, probably did some user testing, and started making their own bagged version to share the same shelf space with chips all year round. Since then, you don’t see homemade snack mix as often on the Holiday table.

Chex Mix is fine, but relatively bland. I remembered the Texas Trash of my childhood as highly addictive, with a punch of flavor that you could only satisfy by stuffing your face with more of it. Sometime around Thanksgiving, I made it my mission to use user testing to create a snack mix that was tasty enough to become a new personal tradition.

Starting the process meant sifting through a lot of recipes. Everyone was eager to share their own family’s approach. I didn’t want to follow a set of rules. I wanted a base set of instructions from which I could build something of my very own. I settled on the one from the Frontier Texas website, mostly because of how basic it was. I wanted to know time, temperature, and how to get started. I’d wing it for the rest.

Prototyping a Snack

To put this in User Experience (UX) terms, I knew my first batch was a prototype. It would answer some questions. How much salt is too much? How much spice is too spicy? Peanuts or no peanuts? I hoped the results were edible, but I knew this was an experiment. I’d be user testing with a select group of refined, experienced snackers – my co-workers at Rocksauce Studios.

They were very willing test subjects. More to the point, I was able to get my questions answered. The first batch was tasty but too salty and didn’t pack much heat. Personally, I wanted nuts in it. The testers were amenable to future nuts. As I posted my results online (on my Facebook), I received even more professional advice. “Add corn nuts!” one friend advised. “Give it a spritz of vinegar from a spray bottle,” was another piece of guidance.

That’s fine for their snack mix, but this was my snack mix. The second batch was adjusted, and the testers (and myself) agreed that the second iteration was an improvement. It was less salty and more spicy hot. The peanuts added a textural break from the brittle crunch of cereal and pretzels.

Here’s where I ended up. Roughly. I didn’t write anything down. My recommendation is to treat this snack mix, like I treated the original recipe, more as a guideline than a set of rules. Add corn nuts and spritz with vinegar if you want. A warning: this makes a LOT of snack mix.

User-Tested Texas Trash

2 sticks of unsalted butter
2 tbsp. of worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup of Huy Fong Garlic Chili Sauce
1 tbsp. of onion powder
1 tbsp. of garlic powder
1 tbsp. of cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. of seasoning salt
1 tbsp. of dry mustard
1/2 box of Rice Chex
1/2 box of Wheat Chex
1/2 box of Corn Chex
1/2 box of Cheez-Its
1/2 box of Honey Nut Cheerios
1 12.5 oz can of Planters Spanish Peanuts
1/2 bag of a 1lb bag of pretzel sticks
one 2-gallon Ziploc bag (you need something to mix this in)

1. Melt the butter, then add the worcestershire sauce & chili sauce.
2. Add the spices to the butter mix.
3. Put the dry goods in the 2-gallon bag.
4. Pour the butter-spice mixture into the 2-gallon bag with the dry goods.
5. Thoroughly coat the dry goods with the mixture. I roll the bag around, and gently shake it until everything looks evenly coated.
6. Spread the coated snack mix onto baking sheets in a 250° F oven. You’ll need two, maybe even three baking sheets. This makes a LOT of mix.
7. Bake for 15 minutes, then flip/stir the mixture, and repeat. Do this four times (flipping all the mix four times in a one-hour period).
8. Remove the mix, salt to taste (I use Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning instead of salt) and let it cool.
9. Eat it! (Or put the snack mix into containers or smaller bags for later.)

In Conclusion…

Since then, I’ve experimented even more. Potato sticks are a good addition. I’ve even used Peanut Butter Chex and peanut butter powder for a stronger nutty flavor. I’ve even failed and learned from how sweeter ingredients react to the heat of the oven. What I’m saying is, don’t be scared! Prototype, test, iterate, and release that snack mix into the mouths of your friends, family, and colleagues!

You might not think UX principles can apply to sometime like Texas Trash, but you’d be surprised!

Happy Holidays! Give Rocksauce Studios a call at 866-981-6847 or send us a message. We help our customers design and launch solutions that people will actually use.

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