Consumer Sensory Analysis and Why You Need It for Your Food Business
Consumer sensory analysis is a critical component of food and beverage product development. Without this important step during the development process, companies would literally be throwing darts – blindfolded, in the hope that you happen to hit the bullseye. Professional product development isn’t about hoping or wishing your product connects with the market. Properly creating an item for production means that the product should undergo a systematic and detailed sensory review to determine the feasibility and acceptability of the product in local and regional markets.
As food marketers and developers, it is important to have an understanding of what exactly sensory analysis is and how that analysis is used in the larger product development cycle. New products can range from line extensions to repositioning an existing product, to creating a new size or shape, to reformulation or repackaging. There are many reasons why a new product might be created, but all of them require proper sensory analysis before going to market. Understanding what benefits can be derived from early-stage sensory evaluations can help determine how to structure your larger development plan from the onset.
What is Sensory Analysis?
Sensory analysis is a scientific technique that assesses, measures, studies, and reviews individual responses to food and beverage consumption. Responses to a wide range of variables to food and beverages are observed and interpreted by food scientists using panelist’s senses including sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Specific sensory analysis methods such as Flavor Profile, Texture Profile, Spectrum Method, and Quantitative Descriptive Analysis can be used to determine key differences within product variants and conditions. When eating or drinking, we use all our senses. It’s not just taste that matters to consumers. How a product sounds – does it crunch, snap, crinkle when eating it, or is there little recognizable sound while eating? All of these sounds come into play when evaluating the auditory acceptance during consumption. When smelling a product – what fragrances are first garnered? Is there a “floral” or salty smell when packaged in foil as compared to paper? Thoroughly testing a product will give fantastic insights as to whether your product claims match the product.
Since ancient times sensory evaluation has been used for the purpose of accepting or rejecting different foods. While early sensory testing wasn’t codified, how people react to food and beverages from a sense perspective has always been used to help determine if a particular food was to be considered good or bad. “As the discipline of sensory testing has become more widely used in product creation and development, it is important to realize that the qualitative data obtained and how that data is assessed is subjective and has great variability depending on external factors such as culture, education levels, eating habits, environmental constraints, geographical location and of course, personal subjective tendencies”, says Steffen Weck, CEO of Food Business Consulting. These variations need to be taken into account in order to ensure accurate statistical analysis.
How Is Sensory Analysis Used In Food And Beverage Development?
Sensory testing is commonly used in the food and beverage industry. Companies and brands will use sensory testing to enhance the makeup of a new product to ensure that a product is ready for the market before final production cycles are implemented.
Let’s take a look at a fictional product that is being developed for a new market and how testing can influence how that product ultimately looks and tastes. For our discussion, let’s say that an existing food brand has decided to introduce a new yogurt that has less sugar and a new flavor profile than other competitor offerings. Once the product has been formulated and test samples are ready for consumption, a panel will be organized which contains a cross-section of the intended target audience. Panelists can be selected from a larger group of regional participants who share similar cultural tastes. Participants will then be asked a variety of questions relating to their perceptions about how the yogurt tastes, smells, feels, looks, and even sounds. Questions will also include topics relating to how the packaging looks, feels, etc. A sampling of questions might include:
- Can you please describe what the texture of the yogurt is most similar to?
- The first flavor that comes to mind when tasting the yogurt is?
- On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, how would you rank the vanilla scent?
- What smell does the yogurt most remind you of?
- Do you believe the consistency of the product is too thick?
The testing moderator will ask a range of questions similar to the sample questions above and the results will then be used to help better understand how the product translates to important sensory markers. Sensory tests consist of numerous questions which cover the whole range of senses. Oftentimes there might be questions pertaining to a particular sense which the consumer might not think to associate with the given food or beverage and yet, if that particular variable isn’t correctly developed in the ingredient profile, consumers will find an otherwise promising product less than appealing. At Food Business Consulting our methodology has been fine-tuned from years of experience with administering sensory tests. The feedback we have gained always leads to a better product.
What Benefits Are Derived From Testing?
“The most important benefit to using sensory testing in the development of new products is that the qualitative results gained allow brands to better understand if their new product will be successful in the market in the ways in which they perceive it might be”, says Weck. Rather than guessing they have a winner, companies can be assured their product is meeting market demands before the costly step of full production starts. If changes are needed, and sensory testing is done at the right time in the development cycle, there is still time to alter the product.
Performing sensory evaluations also means product developers can confirm that each sample has minimal variation between pre-defined established standards. This provides the end consumer consistency in flavor profiles, textures, fragrances and appearance. Consistent product runs are a must for any product which expects a standardized unit.
Product packaging can also be heavily influenced by sensory tests. Not only can these tests affect the size and shape of the product’s package, they can also influence the final look of the labeling, the colors used, and the placement of key product information.
Based on sensory testing – product ingredients may also change. Substituting ingredients that have little or no impact on the overall quality of a product might also be the result of in-depth sensory testing. When changing ingredients the manufacturer may want to test the revised product again in order to get valuable consumer feedback as to whether the change can be perceived and if so, how much does the change affect the overall product perception.
Testing Key To A Product’s Success
In today’s competitive market, gaining any advantage in the product development cycle is paramount. It’s not enough to have a product that you believe has the right attributes to become successful. Detailed qualitative and quantitative analysis performed by a qualified food scientist is of critical importance. Market forces and determining product efficacy can be preemptively managed by administering and reviewing the results of sensory tests. Food Business Consulting works with RedJade Sensory Testing Software to conduct consumer sensory analysis. This robust software gives us the capabilities to create, facilitate, and analyze sensory data for any food/beverage company looking for a competitive edge in the consumer market. Through sensory analysis FBC can help your company save time and money in product development as well as determine crucial variables in your product for meeting the brand’s concept. The majority of CPG’s and emerging brands will find the cost and time required to implement sensory testing is far outweighed by the wealth of product and consumer data which is gained.