“In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question.” – Richard Saul Wurman

We have all done it. At some point in our careers as food industry professionals, we have set up a sensory test only to find that the information we gathered was not the answer to the question we intended to ask. So what went wrong?

Somewhere along the way, we strayed from our project objective and did not hold fast to the statistical principles that would provide robust, actionable data. Let’s review the steps in test design that will ensure a fulfilled project objective.

Determine the Ultimate Goal of the Sensory Study
Understanding the background of your client is the first step in providing best-in-class sensory testing.  As you could imagine, the test design for a cost reformulation project would differ greatly than a test examining prototypes for a product line extension. Similarly, understanding how your client will use the data will greatly influence your test design.  Data for national advertising claims would be large and statistically robust, however directional data for product matching may occur in smaller, informal rounds of testing.

Screen the Samples
Examination of the samples prior to a sensory test is a best practice. This allows you to tailor the ballot and the testing environment to mitigate biases introduced by the samples themselves. For instance, if we are using a triangle test to see if there are differences in flavor between two samples we would need to mask any color differences between the samples that would indicate the odd sample out of the three. Further, the examination of the samples can help set the lexicon for the sensory ballot or training.

Design the Ballot
After defining the intent of the sensory study, screening samples, and understanding how the data will be used an appropriate test can be chosen. Are you best served with a difference test or an affective test? Are we testing differences between attributes or are we rating specific characteristics of the samples? By first classifying your testing into one of these four categories (difference, affective, attribute difference, or descriptive tests) you can more easily narrow down the test types to choose from. And using the knowledge you have gained during your product screening you can set the lexicon for the test as well as set appropriate scales anchors on your ballot. Also, consider what languages should be included on the ballot. (Se habla Español!)

Aligning with your client on the aspects above will result in best practice sensory testing. We at Mérieux NutriSciences are experts at exceeding client expectations. As service providers to the food industry, it is routine for us to design research projects around our client needs and specific products. We also specialize in panelist recruitment for specific demographics.

Mérieux NutriSciences is a premier provider of sensory services.  With three locations in the US, Mérieux NutriSciences can recruit and screen panelists to match your specific needs.  Panels can even include hard to find demographics groups like teens and kids and be administered in Spanish. Learn more about our Sensory capabilities!


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