Sense and sensibility

I have just received an invitation to tour a sensory testing lab next month and I am looking forward to it already; not least because I will learn if I am amongst the ten per cent of the population who have the sensory acuity to be a sensory taste panelist.

The lab, run by Marketing Sciences and based in Kent, UK offers many services, one of which is sensory research. This can help manufacturers understand what the sensory profile of their product is, where their product sits in relation to its competitors and whether consumers will notice if they tweak the product.

Indeed, consumers do notice tweaks in products, so this kind of research is crucial for manufacturers to maintain a loyal customer base. Just last month, Coca-Cola released a statement to confirm that it would be reverting to an original recipe for its Vitaminwater after fans complained about the taste of the new sweetener being used in the drink.

The statement reads, “The fans have spoken. We tinkered with the taste of Vitaminwater. And our fans haven’t had the greatest things to say about it. So we’re changing back to the taste you know and love. We tip our bottle caps to you, Vitaminwater drinkers. Like many good things, this process will take some time but we’ll move as quickly as we can. Our first production facility will be up and running in August. The Vitaminwater you loved will start appearing back on shelves this fall and be available across the country by the winter.”

The need to know how a consumer will perceive a product is, of course, of utmost importance. And with ongoing work in the food and drink industry to reduce things like salt and sugar in products, it is important that reductions are done for the good of the consumer, but not at the risk of losing their loyalty – as demonstrated in the Vitaminwater case.

At my visit to the lab next month, I will learn all about sensory testing – how it works and its essential elements for success in food categories – and hear some of the cases the lab has worked on in the past, highlighting sensory as a powerful tool in the global product development cycle. Last but not least, I will see how I fare in the sensory acuity test. I like to think I can taste the difference between diet and regular fizzy drinks, but whether I have the advanced sensory acuity of that of just one in ten people remains to be seen!

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