The Role of Sensory Evaluation in Product Development

The development of a product can be a slow and tedious journey that offers no promise of a successful end, so anything a developer can do to assure them they are on the right track is a step towards success. Many of the issues that arise during the development of a product can not be controlled by the developer. Things such as competition, short timelines, changes in strategy, unavailable materials, and changes in the targets and regulations are some of the barriers that the developer may face. Some of theses issues will affect the sensory attributes of a product, and sensory evaluation is one of many tools which can be used in the product development process.

A good place to start in product development is to document the profile of the product by using a descriptive panel. The descriptive profile developed in the prototype stage can be used to determine if the scaled-up product is ready for market testing. Comparing a test product to the target product helps identify the sensory attributes that need improvement.

Difference testing can be used to confirm similarities or differences throughout the stages of development, from initial prototype to final product. For example, a chain restaurant developed a new sauce for a chicken sandwich. A discrimination test was conducted on the target sauce and the production sauce. The samples were found to be significantly different, so a descriptive test was done to describe what the differences were. When the descriptive panel found the sweet character was different, the developer reviewed the ingredient list and found that the company had changed sweetener suppliers because the original supplier was no longer available. The developer decided to run an acceptance/preference test to determine if both products were acceptable and equally preferred. The results showed both samples were equally acceptable and there was no preference, so the developer could feel confident that he could move forward with the new sweetener supplier.

Any of these sensory methods can be repeated throughout the development process and can be used in any order depending on the goals of the project. The number and types of sensory method vary depending on many factors. Costs, time and people resources are usually the driving influence on the sensory testing process.

References

Stone, H and Sidel, JL (2004) Sensory Evaluation Practices, 3rd edn. London/New York: Academic Press/Elsevier.

Sidel, JL and Stone, H (2006) Sensory science: methodology. In Hui, YH (ed). Handbook of Food Science, Technology and Engineering. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 57-1 ̶ 57-24.

Stone, H & Sidel, JL (2007) Sensory research and consumer-led food product development. In MacFie, H (ed), Consumer-led Food Product Development. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 307-320.