In today’s social media-driven world, you can’t leave the quality of your products to chance. One missed step and you could face an onslaught of unhappy customers who are eager to share their experience with the internet. So how can you guarantee that quality food products will reach your customers? Go to the customers for opinions first by using sensory testing to ensure quality across your supply chain.
What is sensory testing and how can it benefit my restaurant chain?
Sensory testing asks study participants questions in order to measure the specific characteristics of a food item. The testing may be subjective, such as gathering information on their likes and dislikes, or it may be objective, such as determining if they can differentiate between two samples. Either way, the target audience is asked specific questions, and the results are used to predict how your customers will react to a product. For example, a panel of 100 consumers who often eat cheeseburgers may be asked to rate two new cheeseburgers based on the flavor and juiciness of the burgers. The results can help you predict the viability of launching one formulation as a new, limited-time offer.
Restaurant chains also benefit from sensory services by receiving a quick turnaround on tests run on product samples from distribution centers. These results alert restaurant quality assurance (QA) groups to any quality issues that may be present in their production before they leave the source. This gives them the ability to halt distribution before a low-quality product heads to franchisees or individual restaurants, which ultimately prevents franchisee and customer complaints.
How is sensory testing early and often a best practice to guarantee high quality?
Testing products early in the supply chain gives your QA group time to divert a product from heading into the hands of consumers and creating a loss of brand equity. Sensory testing also increases the transparency of your supply chain and provides a robust number of data points to use in making decisions. Specifically, best practices indicate you should test at a higher frequency when a product is initially launched. Upon introduction of a new product, QA teams may pose questions such as:
- Was the scale up from pilot production to full-scale production successful?
- How does the product withstand distribution?
- Is the product meeting its shelf life?
Heightened sampling plans at product launch ensure that QA teams can answer these questions without fail. After test results prove that the product meets its shelf life and quality is consistent, testing frequencies can be reduced to normal monitoring levels.
What is the cost of sensory testing?
Pricing for a sensory test depends on the length of the survey and number of consumers who participate. For the food service industry, there are truncated testing schemes that work perfectly to monitor quality. These schemes use a reduced number of respondents to keep the test economical and efficient. Depending on the number of items being monitored, and the testing frequencies of each, a program can be developed within your annual budget. Traditionally, suppliers are invoiced directly by the testing lab and results are remitted to both the supplier and the restaurant QA group. Under these supplier-funded programs, the QA group gains visibility into their supply chain operations without paying a penny!
What other tests couple well with sensory testing?
It is customary to pair physical testing of food products with a sensory evaluation to capture objective and subjective data within the same testing period. Less frequently, chemical analyses, such as fat testing or salt testing, will also be added to the testing scheme if those parameters play a significant role in product quality.
What type of results can I expect from sensory testing?
Depending on the sensory test, results may be remitted with a certificate of analysis or customized report. Specialized data management is also something to consider, as many partners can combine product quality assurance monitoring with data mining and trending software. This software option combines real time data collection with trending reports to create actionable data for quality assurance teams. Customer complaints and secondary supplier data can also be collected to round out the supplier monitoring program.
Are you looking to develop a new menu item that will appeal to consumers? Do you know how your product will perform in the marketplace? Mérieux NutriSciences offers subjective and objective sensory testing to assist the food service industry in developing new products. Our quick turnaround of test results also assists QA teams with product launches and quality monitoring. Contact us now to get started.
Meet the Author
Gillian Dagan, Ph.D, CFS
Research Services Business Development Director, Mérieux NutriSciences
Dr. Dagan joined Mérieux NutriSciences with the mission to grow the Research Services business unit that provides clients with customized research projects like sensory testing and shelf life studies. She previously served as Chief Scientific Officer of ABC Research Laboratories where she developed sensory and quality assurance programs for manufacturing and food service clients.