- Challenges of COVID-19
- Managing Sensory Evaluation During the Pandemic
- Finding Creative Solutions
Challenges of COVID-19
The COVID-19 Pandemic has had a profound effect on all of us. Just like many other food testing companies, Mérieux NutriSciences had to make sure our labs and field sites stayed open, while sending many of our office staff home to work remotely. Our teams have become experts at social distancing, PPE, video conferencing platforms, and some new testing approaches have emerged. Everyone has formed new routines and focused on the positives in our new reality.
The thing that has not changed during this difficult time is the fact that chemical and microbiological testing is needed to meet regulatory requirements. And while most of the physical, chemical, and microbial testing can be done in a laboratory while only a few people are present, one part of our business – Sensory Evaluation and Consumer Insights can not be done without consumers!
Sensory evaluation provides support to research and development, marketing, and quality control. New product development and existing product improvement are crucial to any food manufacturer.
Sometimes our Expert Panel is at work doing Descriptive Analysis, but in many cases it is necessary to gather a large consumer panel for smelling, tasting, touching and observing food products; gathering their perspective and insights. This can range from 75, 150, or even 400 people.
Managing Sensory Evaluation During the Pandemic
After a brief stint with consumer testing on pause, both our trained sensory panel and consumer testing returned to normal. Well, new normal, of course; using social distancing and every other sensory booth, sanitizing thoroughly between sessions. Health screening and temperature checks became a part of our normal routine to admit participants in the testing area. Masks were on except when actively smelling or tasting.
With more people stuck at home throughout the months, the consumers became even more enthusiastic to participate in focus groups or product testing.
Finding Creative Solutions
Some CLT= Central Location Testing has been modified into CCLT=Curbside Central Location Testing, where participants sit in their cars while evaluating samples via their mobile device and an online questionnaire. Our creative colleagues have developed protocols for remote descriptive analysis and focus groups, while still adhering to best practices in our field.
Many In-Home Use Tests have been organized by our Sensory Managers where participants could grab the samples in one of our labs, take them home and fill out an online questionnaire after using the product for a certain amount of time.
We have even organized Sensory 101 educational training for companies, where participants could follow the training via videoconferencing using the samples that were shipped to their location.
Overall we are very lucky to have had such a positive experience during these difficult times. We know that many companies were not as fortunate. Many trained panels and internal evaluation panels are impossible to execute with remote workers. Contact Mérieux NutriSciences if you would like to learn more about gathering insights into the new normal.