Food firms should exploit consumer senses, claims professor

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

 Food firms should be tapping into the emerging field of ‘senseploration’, claims Professor Charles Spence
Food firms should be tapping into the emerging field of ‘senseploration’, claims Professor Charles Spence

Related tags Taste Sense Perception

Food and drink firms need to better exploit consumers’ senses – including smell, sight, sound and touch – in their new product development (NPD) if they are to tempt them towards new taste experiences and reformulated products, a leading pioneer of ‘gastrophysics’ has disclosed.

Companies should be tapping into the emerging field of “senseploration”​, where people’s flavour experience is investigated, according to Professor Charles Spence, head of the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at the Department for Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford.

“It can’t be just about what’s on the plate, it’s got to be the total experience,”​ said Spence, during an interactive presentation at a gala dinner in London in September to mark the 100th anniversary of the UK Flavour Association (UKFA).

While senseploration is being increasingly used by restaurants – changing colours, background music and tactile experiences to alter the perception of the food and drink being consumed – opportunities also exist for its use in retail, said Spence.

The study of synaesthesia

His work draws upon the study of synaesthesia, a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.

In the past few years there had been a shift to what is called “correspondence”​, which is similar to synaesthesia, but with fundamental differences, said Spence.

“We all share certain correspondence between us: tastes, shape, colours, pitch and textures. And it operates under the radar, below consciousness, but artistic experience can bring it out,”​ he explained.

“Brands are looking at incorporating correspondences into their own offering, either in product or by experiential events.”

The challenge for the food and drink industry is that for most people, just 1% of our brains is given over to smell and taste, Spence claimed.

What we smell, see, hear and feel

Clues around the potential nature of food and drink are taken from what we smell, see, hear and feel, he explained.

Better understanding these various multisensory influences can help the food industry meet their consumers’ taste expectations, Spence added.

In response, Steve Morgan, chair of the UKFA, said: “Because of this requirement for innovation, flavour houses have played a major role in NPD and applications support, moving from merely supplying flavours, to helping develop recipes and delivering solutions that take into account marketing, sensory and flavour demands.”

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