Sensory is Implicit

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Caroline Withers, Senior Consumer and Sensory Scientist

14 Jun, 2018 | 1 minute read

Consumers know what they like, they really do, and they don’t struggle to tell us. Ask your friends, family or someone off the street about a product they will usually tell you without hesitation what they think about it; love it, hate it or anywhere in between. They don’t usually ponder this question, balancing out the positive and negative elements - they just know it, and whilst they might be able to diagnose what it is they like or dislike about a product, that initial reaction is instinctive.

This type of reaction is fast, spontaneous, and in the consumer research world considered to be ‘system one’ thinking and a key element to understanding the psychology of behavior. As soon as consumers consider the rationale for why they feel a particular way about a product, a more considered and deliberate ‘system two’ thinking takes over, to develop a conscious, logical thought for reasoning. This poses an interesting challenge for product development and research, as understanding the sub-conscious reactions and what product characteristics trigger liking is key, but difficult to answer through asking direct questions to consumers.

Products are complicated combinations of characteristics. Even a product considered simple by consumers, such as crisps, orange juice or bread, has a wide range of product attributes that come together to deliver the aromas, flavors, tastes and textures consumers expect and enjoy. It is the intricate balance of these product characteristics that consumers detect and perceive and can lead to immediate acceptance or indeed rejection of a product at a sub-conscious level. This makes understanding the intensities, combinations and balance of product attributes critical to interpreting consumer liking - and sensory science is an essential tool.

Sensory involves expert assessors testing products to understand and quantify these fundamental characteristics.These experts use their honed sensory skills to describe the product attributes and rate their intensities in an objective analytical profiling approach. Involving sensory experts in product research offers the best of both worlds, allowing consumers to offer their immediate and implicit reactions to products, whilst the sensory trained panel provide analytical, objective reasoning and data to explain consumer responses and liking.These multiple sources of product data can be easily integrated to bring both system one and system two thinking together to inform product development and offer the ideal product for target consumers.

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