At Mérieux NutriSciences we provide quality monitoring programs to food service and retail customers that often benefit from the use of small group consensus descriptive analysis. This technique combines the level of detail found in traditional descriptive analysis with the agility of consensus profiling. When applied correctly this technique results in fast, focused product monitoring.

Supplier Monitoring Programs

With the complexity of supply chains on the rise, monitoring the quality of products from a large number of suppliers becomes a bigger challenge. Food service and retailers often institute supplier monitoring programs to highlight quality gaps in their supply chains. If quality issues are discovered early in the process, product can be diverted before it reaches individual stores and customers. Overall, these programs need to provide fast and accurate quantitative data to support retail quality assurance managers. These supplier monitoring programs use sensory and analytical methods to build strong product specifications and assess product quality.


Traditional Descriptive Analysis

Descriptive analysis is the use of a trained sensory panel to profile and quantify sensory characteristics of products. To start, a group of individuals are screened for sensory acuity and group dynamics. Successful panelists are enlisted in several months of sensory training. A panel leader will work with the group to align on scaling techniques and the use of references for specific aromas, flavors, and textures.

After training a group of ten to fifteen panelists are set as the expert panel. Panelists must show proficiency in identification of these characteristics and be able to appropriately rate intensities. Once proficient, the panel can start to evaluate samples on a routine basis. At a minimum, samples are presented to each panelist in duplicate and individual scores are recorded from each panelist.


Spectrum Descriptive Analysis at Mérieux NutriSciences

We have chosen the Spectrum method for our descriptive analysis panel. In a Spectrum descriptive analysis panel, panelists are trained to rate attributes relative to specific references on given scales. This ensures consistency over time and between different groups of panelists. Further, it allows a group of trained panelists the ability to evaluate a large variety of samples with a small amount of orientation. With the use of descriptive analysis in supplier monitoring programs, the ability of a panel to assess any type of food is paramount.


Use of Descriptive Analysis as a Quality Monitoring Tool

The foundation of a good quality monitoring program is a set of robust specifications that outline the expectations for each product. Specifications should detail analytical values of key quality markers, product defects, and describe the sensory experience of consuming the product. All three of these aspects should be monitored, but a deviation from the expected sensory experience correlates most strongly with customer complaints. Therefore, comparing products to their sensory specification is a powerful quality monitoring activity.

The use of trained panelists in these comparisons results in an objective assessment of product quality. However, the cost to use a full descriptive panel is often prohibitive. As a cost-effective alternative, Mérieux NutriSciences offers small group consensus descriptive analysis.


What is small group consensus descriptive analysis?

Small group consensus descriptive analysis is a technique that uses trained descriptive panelists to evaluate products, but instead of collecting scores from each individual, the group decides a consensus score for a given sample.

The team starts by familiarizing themselves with a product profile in a specification, or creates a product profile from a gold standard sample. Learning this quality standard on one product allows the group to then efficiently evaluate a large number of samples of this product from different suppliers.The team understands the standard and knows what attributes to evaluate on each sample. Samples are presented in at least triplicate to make sure variations can be easily noted.

Three consensus scores are recorded and then averaged for a single score per product attribute. The use of trained panelists for this purpose balances expert sensory skills with a fast evaluation of the product. Because the score is drawn from consensus, we use a smaller group of panelists (3 versus the traditional 10-15). This keeps the group nimble and cost-effective.


Advantages as Quality Assurance Tool

Mérieux NutriSciences has found great benefits in using small group consensus descriptive analysis for supplier monitoring programs. In all these programs, the ability to sample early in the supply chain and divert low quality products is paramount. Therefore, the evaluation of quality must happen quickly without compromising accuracy.

Mérieux NutriSciences uses our Spectrum trained panelists for these quality evaluations with great success. The panelists are fully trained and monitored for proficiency on a regular basis to insure accuracy in the results. Also, because the panelists are trained in the Spectrum method, their results can be compared over time. In supplier monitoring programs, we are looking at the same products on a regular cadence, so the ability to trend data over time is very important.

The small groups can also work efficiently enough to see each product in at least triplicate, allowing them to score the product for quality but also note variation in the lot in just one sampling session.

This efficient, expert evaluation provides actionable quality assurance data on time and in budget. Interested in learning more on consensus descriptive analysis? Contact us today.

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.

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