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The ability to accurately predict which flavors will appeal to consumers is critical to food and beverage manufacturers around the world. Flavor is a key determinant of whether their products have the “wow!” appeal, or a distinctive edge over their nearest competitors, which in turn helps to influence repeat purchase by consumers.
Traditionally, consumer testing of products for flavor preference has involved an upper limit of six or seven product samples per session. A number of factors prevent the use of larger samples: when products are tasted by panelists, there is a limit to how many different samples can be ingested at one sitting before satiety occurs. Sensory fatigue and carry-over effects in the mouth are other problems that occur when tasting multiple product samples. These constraints mean that traditionally, the flavorist has been obliged to narrow down the possible flavor options from the outset, by pre-selecting a limited number of choices that can be evaluated by target consumers.
Increasing the range and variety of samples using traditional approaches has been a costly and time-consuming option. However, by using unique flavor creation tools such as Givaudan’s Virtual Aroma Synthesizer (VAS), these procedural limitations can be overcome. The VAS is an aroma delivery device that combines human perception (sense of smell) with precise instrumentation. It allows for controlled aroma generation to effectively blend complex mixtures of flavor ingredients into a single aroma profile.
VAS technology overcomes the constraints of satiety, since no food or drink samples are actually ingested. Also, cleansing the nasal palate is more straightforward than refreshing the mouth palate, often requiring little more than smelling a neutral stimulus like clean air or coffee beans. Years of research have shown that a typical consumer can evaluate between four and ten times the number of samples through aroma sensing than can be evaluated by mouth (between 30 and 40 are not unusual). This means that more shades and subtleties of flavor can be evaluated in a single session, giving food and beverage manufacturers the ability to explore larger regions of the flavor space at a comparatively lower cost.
Extensive studies have shown aroma to be an accurate predictor of taste preference. Tests have demonstrated that consumers’ preference for a particular taste tends to mirror their liking or disliking of its aroma. Moreover, the perceptual differences that exist between the smell and taste of a product can be addressed by an experienced flavorist, particularly when the expert’s judgment is supported by flavor modeling tools.
Givaudan’s mini-Virtual Aroma Synthesizer (mini-VAS) is the portable version of the VAS, which is used on the company’s TasteTrek programs (exploratory field research exercises) and also on customer sites.