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Only Fools Skip Sensory Testing
March 29th 2022

Only Fools Skip Sensory Testing

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Launching a food product can be a daunting task. It requires time, money, insight, and ingenuity.  If one of those ingredients is in short supply, the product is likely to fail. As an analytical data provider, Mérieux NutriSciences supports product developers with insights on product quality and predictions of product success in the marketplace. 

Consumer Insights—find market niche, discover needs

When we want the unbiased truth, we are told to get our information from the horse’s mouth.  When we are evaluating the idea for a new product or we are trying to understand what problems consumers need solved it makes the most sense to go straight to the consumer. Focus groups can be used early on the in the product life cycle to understand what the market is looking for and a product currently exists that fits the bill. Further, focus groups can give insights into how consumers use products and what improvements they would like to see. 

Similarly, aroma and taste tests allow scientists to collect insights while consumers interact with the products in a controlled setting. Let’s take the evaluation of coffee for example. If researchers want to see how well a new hazelnut coffee is liked by consumers, we would want to control the serving temperature, the amount of sweetener added, and the brewing conditions. By controlling these factors we can confidently make decisions based on the data collected. If a formulation fairs well in this central location test, we may choose an in-home use test (IHUT) next. In an IHUT, panelists are sent home to use a product in their “natural habitat.” As you can imagine, if the product is hazelnut coffee, the preparation of that product may vary from consumer to consumer. Often, IHUTs are used as a secondary field test after success in a controlled central location test.

Sensory and Product Matching

Sensory testing is key for product matching. When one wants to match a product, the first step is understanding the most granular details of the eating experience. This includes the appearance, aroma, flavor, texture, mouthfeel, and aftertaste. Specific lexicons should be developed and used to describe products and the intensity of each attribute should be quantified. This can be done using a trained, expert descriptive analysis panel. These panelists have been trained to profile products in a highly detailed way. These details help product developers understand products a deep level and help them formulate and reformulate efficiently when trying to match a product. As prototypes evolve, they can each be compared to the target product and areas of adjustment can be identified. This use of descriptive analysis can dramatically shorten the time to market of product matches.

Sensory and Shelf Life Studies

Sensory testing is just as important throughout a product shelf life as it is on day one. In shelf life studies, products are held at their specified storage temperature and the quality is monitored over time. The use of sensory in shelf life studies is the scientific version of the consumer gut-check: Does the product look ok? Does it smell ok? Does this still taste like it did the first day I opened it? Sensory can also detail what changes are happening over time and to what extent. This can clue product developers into how they can reformulate to create more robust products. 

Sensory and Quality Assurance

After creating a new product, developers must make sure that it can be scaled up without a loss of quality. When the final handover to production happens, product developers should be handing over more than just a formulation and processing specifications. They should also be handing over a clear and quantified sensory description of the gold standard of the product. Their colleagues in quality assurance are tasked with monitoring products coming off the line and thus they need a full and complete picture of what product development’s intended product. Often this handoff creates a knowledge gap and the gap results in a less than satisfied customer. Descriptive analysis can provide the clear and quantified sensory definition to be incorporated into the finished product’s specification. Thus, sensory testing is used at the beginning and end of product development.

As you can see, insights at the beginning, end, and throughout the product development lifecycle help to create amazing products that will not disappoint. Discovering market niches, favorite prototypes, and robust formulations cannot happen without insight from the consumer and the use of sensory data. Mérieux NutriSciences can provide this actionable data via consumer studies and trained expert panels. Contact Mérieux NutriSciences to understand why only fools skip sensory testing. 

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