IFST Sensory Group Conference Summary
Global, Ethical and Safe: Challenges and Solutions for Modern Sensory and Consumer Science
The long awaited annual SSG Conference took place on Thursday 16th June. Held in the SCI building in London, this year’s meeting set out to explore the challenges for Sensory and Consumer Researchers brought about by globalisation of brands and ethical and safety considerations.
To open, Manuel Algarbe from the Kraft Heinz Company used two case studies to illustrate the issues that a global market brings to research design. We all know that legislation and tastes vary between countries (the Spanish apparently prefer their mayonnaise slightly rancid!) but Manuel reminded us that there are many other factors including history, media stories and attitude. For example, whilst the Mexicans love all things natural, the Brazilians are not interested.
Manuel’s key message? When researching products for global markets it is essential to know your customer. It is unlikely that resource will allow research in all the countries in which you will launch so pick countries carefully and design action standards accordingly. The principles remain the same whether your product is pasta sauce or sanitary pads.
The next two speakers explored the ethical and practical considerations around sensory testing of whisky and other high ABV alcoholic drinks, and the palatability testing of pharmaceuticals. After a fascinating introduction to the work of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, Frances Jack presented data showing how sensory adaptation and fatigue affect in mouth perception of whisky, bourbon and aperitifs; and how some attributes such as the peat flavour of peated whisky, have lower thresholds in mouth than by aroma. Interestingly Frances also pointed out that 5% of total alcohol is absorbed via the mouth when using a sip and spit procedure.
The EU Paediatric Medicines Regulation of 2007 requires that any medicine that could be prescribed for children is of high quality and researched appropriately. This includes testing of palatability to maximise compliance. Catherine Tuleu of UCL explained that taste is the most common reason for refusal of medicines, particularly amongst children. Ethically, testing of medicines amongst children, particularly patients, poses challenges especially as testing will ideally take place in the very early stages of development to select product format. So the questions of how to collect data; how to extrapolate results from adults to children; and to define what is acceptable, become real challenges. Add to this global differences in flavour acceptability and GCP and Clinical Trial Guidelines and the problem is far from simple. Catherine also presented data on how sensitivity to quinine failed to predict perception of bitterness in active pharmaceuticals which led nicely to the pre-lunch session on individual differences.
Lisa Methven of the University of Reading described how our knowledge of the genetic predictors of taste and aroma sensitivity is increasing and discussed whether we should incorporate genotype screening into sensory panel selection. Isobel Payne from the University of Nottingham presented her Final Year project work into how thermal taster status impacted liking of Cola and reported that compared to non-Tasters, Thermal Tasters showed greater difference in liking between brands and a higher preference for chilled than ambient Cola. This may have been due to a reduction in sweetness perception at chill temperature. We ended the morning session on a slightly more controversial note as Carol Raithatha asked to us to consider whether men or women make better sensory panellists!
After lunch we split into two groups for the workshops. Gemma Hodgson of QI Statistics reminded us of some of the golden rules, particularly that lack of differences does not mean that things are the same and the need to design studies in advance to suit your objectives. Silvia Peleterio from Leatherhead Food Research led a fascinating session which highlighted the many factors to consider when selecting the portion size to serve sensory panellists and consumers.
Thank you to everyone who put the day together and to those who contributed to the poster session at lunchtime. Also to everyone who attended and contributed to the discussion and debate. All together it made for yet another informative and thought provoking conference.
The presentations from the SSG conference are now available on the IFST website.