January 16, 2020
by ISR

Reflecting on 20 Years of Sensory Research

We’re celebrating 20 years of sensory research and – would you believe it? – that makes us an old-timer in this industry!

So, of course we have to reflect on the last two decades at ISR. What’s changed in sensory research and what might be in store for the next 20 years?

Here are our observations about how sensory research has evolved, at least from the ISR perspective!

Category Expansion

It used to be that sensory research was the purview of food and beverage manufacturers alone. Over time, other product categories have sought insights from sensory research. For example, our personal care clients were one of the first in the industry to leverage sensory research for everything from formulation changes to category appraisals.  Now, sensory research is widely used in skin, hair and oral care…so much so that we have 12 dedicated, highly-utilized sink booths in our facility. 

Sensory research is also increasingly used in other “non-traditional sensory” categories.  Among the most frequent users are household and automotive care (think fragrance and texture measurements) and tech-based personal care products (think light therapy and electric exfoliators).

Research Agility

As with so much in our 5G world, speed has become king, and sensory research is no exception.  Where clients used to have months available for a sensory project, now they need guidance in weeks.  Fortunately, having trained sensory panels and experienced sensory research staff enables research agility.  And, we’ve incorporated new methodologies that enable clients to gain insights quickly.

Global Reach

Here too, sensory research reflects the intercontinental world we live in.  Whether it’s U.S. clients looking for sensory analysis in new markets or international clients seeking sensory research in America, global reach and the ability to craft a comprehensive global research plan is essential.  While most clients seek foundational sensory work, we do see global studies over time, such as multi-year category appraisals – which are particularly important in evolving markets.

Tech First

We’d be remiss in not including a mention about the growing importance of technology in sensory research, despite the fact that we were one of the first agencies to incorporate computers into the sensory lab (while others were still recording data on pen and paper!).  Today’s tech includes touchpad computers, cameras and microphones in every testing booth, web-enabled video cameras, wireless tablets, video conferencing, digital audio and video recording, and wireless internet access.

Sensory Panels Coming Full Circle

In the beginning, there were sensory panels at sensory research agencies. Then, there were sensory panels at client sites.  Now, despite there being client site panels, those panels are often outsourced to sensory agencies for recruiting, training and managing.  Further as return on investment (ROI) becomes the new old word, clients are finding that their on-site panels are often inefficient and labor intensive, with constant struggles to find work to keep their panels engaged. And so, in many ways, sensory panels have come full circle with research moving back into the sensory company for trained, semi-trained and even consumer panels. 

From speed and tech demands to ROI and worldly views, two decades of sensory research have reaffirmed what we already know:  sensory research reflects the products, the clients, the world which it serves.

We look forward to serving you for another 20 years and beyond.

Thank you for partnering with us in this exciting sensory journey.

November 12, 2019
by ISR

5 Tips for Choosing a Panel Operations Partner

So many of our clients have their own sensory panels or want to build their own panel, but building and managing sensory panels can be a burden on already-overworked research teams. That’s where a panel operations partner comes in, but how do you choose the right one for your organization?

Here are a few thoughts on what to look for in a sensory panel management company:

Industry Experience. For what industries does the company have panel management experience? Clearly, the panel company should have experience conducting sensory research in your product category or experience that is obviously transferable to your category.

Panel Experience. Does the company have experience in recruiting, training, managing and monitoring these panels? Some companies can manage the panel but have not recruited for it; others can manage the staffing but do not provide thorough monitoring to ensure accurate results.

Approach. Managing client-site panels is a balancing act. The panel operations partner should welcome the insight and experience of the broader project team and be flexible in their approach, while maintaining a strict adherence to protocols and principles. 

Creativity. Will the panel partner be proactive in employing innovative approaches to uncovering insights in the product category.

Operations. Will the day-to-day operations be seamless and efficient? Some important considerations:

  • Single point-of-contact
  • Supervised by an experienced sensory researcher
  • On-site panel leader
  • Ongoing communication with project teams
  • Community building training and exercises among panelists
  • Continuous improvement initiatives

Ready to look for a panel partner company? Give us a shout!

October 22, 2019
by ISR

Hybrid Descriptive Analysis: the Basics

Need to know how your product is different than the competition? We use Hybrid Descriptive Analysis to answer this question.

It identifies attributes and characteristics that are meaningful to the product developer for your product category.

We use our trained sensory panel to test the product. Training is led by a sensory expert, and continuous feedback is provided to the panel. Because it is product focused, panel training is shorter than with other methods.

Through this testing, the panel aids in “lexicon” development.

At the end of the project, you will know how your product differs from
the competition. And, you can use some of the terminology for consumer testing. You’ll also be able to provide guidance to product development teams

Hybrid Descriptive Analysis can be used for many product categories, such as Food, Beverage, Beauty, Personal Care and Household Care.

October 2, 2019
by ISR

Sensory Research in Action: Category Appraisal for Salsa

Our client wanted to understand product deficiencies (identified in a prior study) for their salsa product versus key competitors. Four prototypes were developed to address these deficiencies and push out the sensory space. Because the competitive set is so diverse, we also wanted to achieve a holistic understanding of the entire category.

We used Category Appraisal to address this challenge. Category Appraisal combines consumer product testing with detailed product characteristics (from a descriptive panel), providing actionable results for product developers.

Why use Category Appraisal?

While consumers can tell us what they like and don’t like, it is often difficult for them to articulate enough detail to guide product development. Category appraisal addresses these limitations through the use of a trained sensory panel.

What We Did

What We Learned

We identified the key drivers of liking (positive and negative) by consumer preference segments, and the sensory attributes that differentiate the salsas. We also mapped the sensory space to identify which attributes explain half of sensory differences across the products

Through our research, we learned that none of the Prototypes achieves significantly higher Overall Liking (mean) over Control; however, Prototypes 1 and 2 performs at parity to Control on liking.

Other key learning include:

  • Prototype 1 is more well-liked than Competitors W and G.
  • Prototype 2 is parity to Competitors W and G.
  • Prototype 1has no major deficiencies while the competition have several key areas in which to improve their flavor profiles.

To view the complete case study, click here.

September 18, 2019
by ISR

Sensory Research in Action: Descriptive Analysis of Medicinal Oil

Our client wanted to determine whether any sensory differences exist between the Control and Test samples of their Medicinal oil. The test sample utilized a masker to address an off-note in the Control.

What We Did

We utilized Descriptive Analysis and our panel of trained sensory experts, each with 7-10 years of experience to analyze the two products.

A lexicon was created based on the Control and the Test sample with masker. A lexicon is the language that is typically used to describe the product’s attributes.

The Panel was then trained on the selected attributes. Upon completion of the training, the panel evaluated the Control and Test samples in 2 replications. Individual panel scores were collected online and a t-test analysis was performed at 95% confidence level.

What We Learned

The Masking agent did have an impact on the overall Flavor and on the Skunky notes of the Test samples. The Test Sample with the masking agent was found to have less Overall Flavor Intensity, with less Skunky aroma and flavor; and slightly higher Astringency and bitter aftertaste.

View the complete case study here.

September 11, 2019
by ISR

Flash Profiling: The Basics

Need to quickly understand the whole product set in your category? We use Flash Profiling to answer this question.

Flash Profiling is a fast analysis tool for understanding the relative positioning of products and to get a perceptual map of the product spaces.

We use our trained sensory panel to evaluate the product. All the products are presented together and panelists create their own attributes.

At the end of the project, you will know the positions of products according to their major sensory differences and you will have a visual map of the product spaces.

Here’s what a Flash Profile Map looks like:

Flash Profile of Medicinal Oil

Benefits of Flash Profiling

  • Language development for descriptive analysis
  • Screening tool for product selection
  • A sensory base for a preference mapping study
  • Enhances the value of in-house and round-table tasting

Uses of Flash Profiling

  • Short shelf-life products
  • Projects with one-shot evaluation
  • Children’s panels

Flash Profiling can be used for ALL product categories.

August 26, 2019
by ISR

It’s clear…the tide is turning in laundry.

How do color and fragrance attributes influence the perception of an efficacious laundry detergent? We recently explored this by combining consumer qualitative and quantitative research methodologies with flash profiling conducted by a trained descriptive panel. The results are illustrated in our Pangborn 2019 poster.


Consumers perceive a clear, moderately fragranced high tech laundry detergent to be more efficacious in cleaning laundry.

Fragrance, color, and trust in technology effect consumers’ purchasing decision of a laundry detergent. Consumers believe that clear laundry detergent with clearly labeled technology on packaging is more effective in cleaning laundry than saturated color detergent. The addition of fragrance to a clear detergent increases efficacy perception but a too low or too high fragranced detergent is perceived to be less efficacious.

Future research is needed to further explore the interaction of other sensory cues that affect the perception of efficacy.

August 21, 2019
by ISR

Sensory Research in Action: Descriptive Analysis and Manufacturing Changes

In this case study, our client needed to qualify additional manufacturing lines in order to increase capacity on the production of chewable vitamins. Providing additional capacity was essential to delivering on order commitments.

Most importantly, given the volumes of the business, we had to ensure that this change would not impact the sensory characteristics of the chewable vitamins and risk alienating our client’s current users.

Leveraging descriptive analysis, we were able to incorporate the inherent variability in the current manufacturing process, so that we did not incorrectly fail a facility due to a difference from a single lot.

Want more? Here’s what we learned.

August 12, 2019
by ISR

Looking for more from your Sensory Panels?

You’re probably familiar with our standing descriptive and discrimination panels (if not, click here), but did you know that we also offer semi-trained consumer panels and in-context panels? Lately, these panels are very much in demand as manufacturers seek deeper insights into product usage and experiences.

Here’s the 101 on these panels:

In-context Sensory Panels

  • These are sensory acute and articulate panelists
  • The ISR panel encompasses 20 panel members with a minimum of seven years’ experience
  • Trained to objectively evaluate attribute intensities without judging the product on liking (as opposed to consumer tests)
  • Able to complete sensory evaluations in context
  • Useful for receiving technical feedback as well as experiential feedback

Semi-trained Consumer Panels

  • These are high users of the category
  • Trained with protocol and lexicon instruction, utilizing terminology that is precise
  • Able to complete sensory evaluations in the lab or in context
  • Useful for obtaining emotional and experiential feedback and product guidance.

And for those companies who prefer to leverage their own sensory panels, we offer client-site panel recruiting, training, management and auditing services.  You can learn more here or just contact us!

July 10, 2019
by ISR

How to Use Sensory Research to Explore New Sweeteners

The future looks bright for Tate & Lyle’s low-calorie sugar, Allulose. “Ever since the FDA decided to exclude Tate & Lyle’s super low-calorie sugar, Allulose, from the total and added sugar declarations on the Nutrition Facts panel, manufacturers across categories have been clamoring to learn how the ingredient might help them meet growing consumer demand for lower-calorie and lower-sugar products.” (FoodNavigator-usa.com)

At ISR, this is a common request from our clients. There’s a need to make an ingredient change – sometimes driven from a cost perspective, other times because the ingredient offers new marketing opportunities or responds to consumer demands — in any case, our clients are concerned about altering consumer perception of their product.

In these situations, we often use our temporal dominance of sensation technique and our standing sensory panel to help guide manufacturers as they pursue ingredient (or manufacturing) changes to the product.

In the case of Tate & Lyle’s new offering, Avishan Amanat, Director of ISR, states “Our TDS technique along with our Descriptive Analysis panel can actually help our clients better understand the influence of Allulose on sweetness level, as well as understand the impact on taste, flavor and aftertaste when used in combination with other sweeteners.”

You can see below how TDS was used in a recent mouthwash analysis.
Our client wanted to compare multiple sensations over time. We were able to identify which sensations appeared, when they appeared, and how long they lasted.

TDS can be used for virtually any product category!