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Measuring sensory modalities to predict consumer preferences [Interview]

When it comes to successfully developing new F&B products, knowing your consumer and creating a pleasant sensory experience based on personal preferences is critical. We caught up with Consumer Research Consultant Carol Raithatha, to learn more about how measuring sensory modalities can assist in predicting consumer preferences.
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How do you measure different sensory modalities? What new techniques do you use?

“The sensory modalities are the perceptual categories of food and drink as we experience them. These include appearance, odour, taste and flavour, texture, sound and aftertaste.”

“There are various ways to measure the modalities using human assessors. One of the most complete and accurate approaches is sensory profiling, in which trained assessors examine, define, and quantify the perceivable attributes. This can give detailed information but requires experience and some time.”

“Consumers of the products can also be used to measure the sensory modalities at a less detailed level. What is interesting here is to see what consumers notice, and when and which modalities within the overall sensory profile are key to their liking and choice. There are a range of techniques to use with consumers, including liking scaling, check all that apply, and qualitative discussions.

“In most cases, exploring the perception of both trained assessors and consumers, and then comparing and correlating them is very useful for identifying key preference drivers and optimising prototypes.”

How accurate are these techniques in predicting consumer preferences?

“Measuring the modalities in conjunction with understanding consumer preferences and choice, can definitely help with choosing the best sensory profile for various consumer segments. In addition, I would say that being interested in and creative with the modalities, can help to create novel concepts and pleasing products that are adapted for the consumer and their need state.”

What kind of consumer research are you involved in and how long do such projects last?

“I get involved in all sorts of consumer research. The approach can vary from online usage and attitude surveys, to central location or home placement product testing, to qualitative discussions and in-depth interviews.”

“All of these are valuable techniques and can be applied at different stages of the project. For example, qualitative discussions might be appropriate for initial feedback on concepts, whereas product testing with a large number of consumers would be more appropriate for validating prototypes before launch.”

What should be considered when developing a new product, with a consumer focus in mind?

“There are so many things to consider. Of course, the sensory profile is critical. And knowing which segment of consumers you are targeting is also extremely important. Designing the product to include the key sensory attributes at the correct level can be key to acceptance.  And functionality – how, when and where the product will be prepared and consumed – are also of vital importance.”

“I would advise to always think about how the consumer will interact with the product – what will the context be and what might the requirements be for the product as a result? In addition, make sure to look to other category trends, keep an eye on social media, and carry out ongoing consumer research if you can.”

At Fi Europe CONNECT 2020 you will present a case study of plant-based meat to explore which modalities are important to consumers and why. What are consumers looking for in meat analogues?

“In my opinion, this is an ‘it depends’ question! It depends on why consumers are choosing a meat alternative: is it for ethical, environmental, or health concerns? Or maybe it’s curiosity or ‘the thing to do’ at that moment.”

“Although, I think I can say that almost all consumers are looking for a pleasurable experience from meat analogues, the type of sensory profile they may want or accept will vary. For example, those who like meat but are concerned about their health may look for something potentially quite close to meat, whereas those who are more interested in trying new foods may be excited about interesting tastes, textures or colours.”

“In all cases, I would say that meat analogues generally need to have some bite, a savoury taste, and an appealing appearance, odour, and aftertaste. But this is reducing something very complex to the highest level.”

What are your predictions for the F&B industry over the next 3-5 years?

“I think there will be ripples from an increase in online shopping. For example, there will be a stronger focus on product appearance and product ranges.”

“In addition, there will be more innovations with respect to packaging that is protective and attractive, but environmentally sound. And, traceability will be inherent.”

“I also see more mixing and matching of cuisines and product types and ingredients, to come up with solutions that consider product acceptability as well as health, environmental and other issues. Take for example hybrid meat (meat products where some of the meat is replaced by other protein sources), a pragmatic response to issues of concern around producing and eating meat. I am hoping that these sorts of approaches are something we will see more of in the future.” 

Don’t miss Carol Raithatha’s presentation ‘Making the most of the sensory modalities’ during Fi Europe CONNECT 2020.

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