New ways to measure how consumers react to foods

08 February 2022 | News

A recently-published book of research articles focuses on new ways of measuring consumers’ responses to food and packaging, offering important insights into how future products could be designed.

Sensory Science Senior Lecturer Dr Damir Torrico, who edited the book, says this type of information is crucial for the food and beverage industries, as it can help to create products that meet or exceed consumer expectations.

Sensory analysis draws on the human senses to objectively evaluate foods, beverages and packaging, but normally uses self-reported responses that can be affected by cognitive biases.

However, in the book, Novel Techniques to Measure the Sensory, Emotional and Physiological (Biometric) Responses of Consumers Towards Food and Packaging, the researchers explore other novel techniques, such as virtual reality (VR), various non-invasive instruments and video or image analyses of consumers.

The book was reprinted from articles that were published in a special issue of the journal, Foods, and aims to provide a deeper understanding of these techniques to measure the different sensory, emotional and physiological responses towards different products.

"There is a growing interest in understanding the role of physiological and psychological reactions of participants towards the sensory assessments of foods," Dr Torrico said.

"Sensory laboratories use isolated booth environments that are designed to control against the effects of non-product factors, such as external aromas, light distractions, and noises of various surrounding environments.

"However, some researchers argue that this setting does not represent the actual conditions in which consumers taste their products. Highly controlled testing conditions may lack ecological validity that can lead to a biased evaluation of the sensory attributes by consumers."

According to Dr Torrico, using VR environments has recently become popular for testing the effects of context on the sensory experience.

"Sensory analysis of foods, beverages, and packaging are incorporating quantitative aspects of culture, behaviour, mood, and environment, which require novel approaches."

The research also takes into account the food trend of sustainability, which is influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions.

"The alternative protein movement has been pushing food developers to reformulate existing products with new ingredients and at the same time to keep the acceptability of those products at similar or higher levels," Dr Torrico said.

"Understanding the consumer assessments of emerging ingredients such as plant and insect-based products is becoming crucial for companies that are producing alternative protein foods."

One group of researchers studied the sensory responses of consumers to plant-based yogurt products and found that the use of emojis was effective in characterising cross-cultural preferences of different formulations.

Another study evaluated the sensory and biometric responses of consumers toward insect-based food snacks and concluded that snacks containing visible insects had a lower degree of acceptance and more negative emotional responses than those containing non-visible insects or no insects.

Another group evaluated the effects of familiarity and branding on the sensory experiences of soy sauces, using facial expressions and video-based heart rate measurements. They found that positive feelings toward the products were affected by taste but not by branding and familiarity, while branding and familiarity affected facial expressions and heart rate.

The study also showed that the assessment of facial expressions and heart rate can be done remotely without the use of centrally located laboratories, and only by using image and video recording devices.

The Lincoln University research mentioned in this book was supported by the Centre of Excellence - Food for Future Consumers, of which Dr Torrico is the current director. Finding novel methods to assess consumers experiences with foods is one of the main objectives of the centre.

PHOTO: Damir Torrico