Transforming Sensory Science into Strategy

As a recent member, I attended the second meeting of the Society of Sensory Professionals (SSP) held in Napa, CA  the last week of October (27-29/10). The theme of the conference was “Transforming Science into Strategy”, but listening to the presentations, the theme could have been rephrased “Making more (projects) with less (resources)”, consequence of the 2008 economy downturn. However the spirits were high and we could feel a great vibe among the 300+ participants who were keen to meet colleagues and share recent experiences. It was no nice to reconnect with sensory colleagues I had not seen in years! Below is a short summary of the learnings I took back home. I will expand in my following posts more specifically on some methodologies  that I found interesting.

Five keynote speakers addressed the audience on the reality of sensory science in the context of a global economy, continuing search of satisfying consumers, or collaborative research efforts with universities and research centres.

I particularly appreciated the talk of Marcia Young, who described her recent transition as a Global Head Consumer science in the context of the merger between Cadburry’s and Kraft foods. Marcia candidly shared her vision for building an efficient consumer science department,  which  provides consumer insights across 160 countries.  Her speech was highly motivating, demonstrating what good leadership skills are needed to successfully manage a global sensory and consumer science program.

Technical sessions covered applications of sensory methodologies to the development of new alcoholic beverages and wines, the implementation of rapid methodologies to unveil unique consumer insights and drive innovation and product development.  Here are my take home ideas:

  • Use of Consumer Advisory groups as a support for qualitative and quantitative research for new product development: a group of selected consumers meeting on a regular basis to assess the progress in the development of a new product and assisting the research team from ideation to packaging creation and marketing strategies.
  • Use of perceptual mapping in culinary research and menu development to assist the chefs in selecting new ingredients by characterizing their sensory properties; this is a new application area for  sensory science.
  • The importance of evaluating consumer liking on unbranded and branded products: a good way (although pricey) to assess the strength of a brand or the perceived quality of a product, or any dissonance between the two.

 A poster session gathered 100 presentations, showcasing  case studies using novel techniques.

All these presentations are available on the Society website, however you need to be a member to view them.

The Society meetings are different from the traditional technical conferences for they include professional development sessions. One of the topics this time was on communication and “how to have difficult conversations”, for example how to announce bad news. Break-out sessions allowed participants to work in small groups and discuss these topics and learn from each others’ experience. Another theme was related to career development and how seasoned professionals could mentor or coach beginners through the Society activities. Training of new sensory professionals is an on-going effort and requires more collaboration between the University departments teaching sensory and the businesses out in the real world. Some companies offer such mentorships but this is not a standard. This is certainly a concern to me, considering the difficulty we have in Canada to find trained and experienced sensory professionals. I would gladly contribute and am ready to mentor any motivated young professionals out there.  Likely, one of my first advices will be to read the new book of Dr. Howard Moskowitz: YOU! What you MUST know to start your career as a professional [www.TheYouBook.com]

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