Sweetener Systems and Sensory

Originally Published: April 4, 2019
Last Updated: February 4, 2021

THE MARCH TOWARD HEALTHIER reduced-sugar product formulations may break new ground in the art and science of food formulation, but it will not necessarily break new ground regarding consumers’ expectations for the sensory qualities of their food and beverage choices. Hence, a consistent sensory evaluation protocol should be an essential adjunct to any sugar-reduction project.

Judy Lindsey, General Manager of the Brisan Group, broke down such a sensory evaluation protocol into three basic elements in her presentation, “Sweetener Systems and Sensory: Three Practical Tools to Help You be More Agile.” The first is to build a proper lexicon for use as a consistent basis of comparisons. The second is to develop the proper methodologies whereby to compare sensory properties and their deviations from development targets. A third is to properly understand consumer sensory priorities. “These three elements provide the foundations for building agile sensory programs that will allow developers to obtain results faster and with greater confidence,” said Lindsey.

Why does one need a lexicon? “It is important that new product development teams share the same terminology and thereby waste less time arguing about flavor perceptions,” said Lindsey. “The same lexicon should be employed by all different levels, be it by the technical team, the sales team or the management team.” For example, descriptors, such as “metallic,” “acrid” and “bitter” can overlap, but still describe distinctly different sensory experiences. Some descriptors, such as “stale,” can refer to flavor, texture or both.

“Use the lexicon terminology from the very beginning of the project and make sure that these words are the only ones used to describe the products in question. As new sensory observations are made about a product, add them to the lexicon,” said Lindsey. “But, if additional words come up to describe already-observed sensory attributes, strike their use and revert to the original lexicon,” she added.

“Constantly revisit the lexicon and keep it simple,” emphasized Lindsey.

In response to an audience question, Lindsey also recommended that development teams establish reference samples for each term included in a lexicon for training purposes. This will provide continuity between different projects and development teams.

Once you have a lexicon, you need methods that can compare and contrast one sample against another during the product development process. This requires having a consistent and accurate sensory protocol readily available in order to prevent time wastage. “The methodology should be systematic, simplistic and utilized in a uniform manner, always using the same forms,” said Lindsey. Potential sensory survey tools include: 1) flash profiling; 2) Difference from Control (DOC) methodology; and 3) using a “descriptive panel flight team.”

As an example of a flash profile-evaluation form, Lindsey displayed a survey form that quantified each attribute in the company’s lexicon on a 10-point scale. Deviations from control” can be measured on a 9-point scale measuring less-than and more-than the control value. [See slide 8 of Lindsey’s presentation at  https://bit.ly/2AzrOVg].

A “descriptive flight team” refers to a small, dedicated sub-group of the company’s descriptive sensory panel who are assigned to ac- company product developers for the length of the project. “This can be done at less cost and less time than employing a full-descriptive panel along the way,” explained Lindsey.

Such are the tools of an ongoing sensory analysis program. Other “need to know” project requirements are the boundaries of consumers’ sensory expectations for products. It is important to know just how much wiggle room one has in the inevitable redesigns of product sensory profiles that accompany sugar reduction, Lindsey noted.

“For example, if one is worried about a detected ‘artificial taste,’ and it emerges that most consumers cannot perceive it, then perhaps it should not be of concern,” she explained. “Also, when consumers evaluate a reduced-sugar ice cream, do they compare it to a high- end, high-fat ice cream or do they compare it to lower-end brands?” Product developers should know the answers to such questions before they embark on a project.

Lindsey suggested that much of this consumer preference information is likely available in company marketing data, published literature or in third party research available on the internet. It always pays to do one’s sensory homework, in other words.

“Sweetener Systems and Sensory: Three Practical Tools to Help You be More Agile,” Judy Lindsey, General Manager Brisan Group

This presentation was given at the 2018 Sweetener Systems Conference. To download presentations from this event, go to: https://sweeteners.globalfoodforums.com/category/sweetener-systems-rd-academy/

See past and future Sweetener Systems Conference Events at: https://sweeteners.globalfoodforums.com/sweetener-systems-events/