Product Optimisation Research - Wirral Sensory Services

Product Optimisation


This technique links consumer research to sensory profiling. Correlation of consumer research and sensory data enables the identification of key drivers for consumer acceptance and allows us to create a profile for a ‘Gold Standard’ product.

Our trained panellists have higher than average sensory acuity and numeracy and are dedicated to sensory profiling, carrying out profiling research of products ranging from popcorn to smoked salmon each year.

This process affords our clients a full and comprehensive overview of changes to products in the marketplace and allows them to develop the best possible products, therefore maximising sales potential.



Case Study:

The request

A popcorn manufacturer wanted to ensure that they had the best products in the marketplace and subsequently ensure their market share while improving sales. They requested a complete product optimisation process to achieve this.

The specific objectives were –

  • To develop a protocol for sensory profiling popcorn products.
  • To compare and contrast the sensory profiles of the clients’ and competitor popcorn products.
  • To conduct consumer acceptance testing on a range of these popcorn products.
  • To correlate sensory and consumer data to highlight consumer acceptance in terms of sensory parameters.
  • To identify any key drivers for consumer acceptance of popcorn products.
  • To understand how consumer acceptance of the clients’ products compares to competitor products.
  • To provide an understanding of requirements for improvement of the client’s popcorn products.
  • To show that the improved products are stronger propositions compared to the clients’ current recipes and competitor products.


The methodology

Our approach was to conduct a sensory research project to develop a protocol for profiling popcorn products quantitatively in terms of the major sensory signals encountered during their consumption. Then the sensory profiles of 32 popcorn products were measured, including 6 salt popcorn products. To facilitate interpretation multivariate maps were constructed using Principal Component Analysis (PCA).

Next consumer acceptance testing was conducted with a range of the popcorn products that were sensory tested. This included 5 of the salt popcorn products.

The sensory research and consumer acceptance results were then correlated and consumer acceptance of popcorn products highlighted in terms of sensory parameters

Sensory Profiling

A panel of 17 people, selected on the basis of having previously demonstrated good sensory acuity and numeracy in using sensory scales, was recruited to serve as the sensory panel.

The panellists were given a range of popcorn and, in open discussion, were asked to offer words or phrases to describe the products and to identify and describe differences between the products.

From this initial exercise a total of 112 terms which could be used to define the sensory properties of popcorn were generated.

By eliminating synonyms and similar terms the list of descriptors was reduced, resulting in a final list of 26 descriptors.

Using the descriptors identified there were three panellist training sessions. The descriptor list was discussed with the panel and each descriptor was defined to ensure that the panellists had a common understanding of each term.

The panellists were then given different popcorn products and asked to assess them against the descriptor list in open forum to ensure that they would score the products as similarly as possible.

Next the panellists were given popcorn products which they assessed in a mock sensory testing situation. Panellist performance was assessed in terms of consistency and uniformity. This showed that these panellists had now been trained to respond in as similar a manner as possible, and therefore now functioned as ‘human communicative instruments.’

Finally the panellists were given 32 popcorn products to assess against the descriptors. All assessments were performed in duplicate.

Consumer Acceptance Testing

A Central Location Test was carried out with a panel of typical consumers, all regular popcorn eaters, with a mix of socioeconomic demographics, age and gender.

The respondents were presented with the samples in a sequential monadic order; the samples were debranded before being given to the respondents and the order of presentation was randomised to prevent any potential bias.

Respondents were asked to score each of the samples for a number of key parameters on a hedonic scale, as well as noting down any specific likes and dislikes.

The results

By correlating the results from the sensory and consumer tests we were able to identify the key drivers of product acceptance in the eyes of the consumer. We were able to provide statistical evidence of the importance of each of the sensory parameters and generate a PCA map of a ‘Gold Standard’ product, i.e. a product where each of the parameters were at an ideal level to maximise consumer acceptance.

The action

Based on the results of the research, our client was able to reformulate each product to match the ‘Gold Standard’ parameters; after the reformulations were complete, we were able to assess the old recipes against the new recipes to ensure that the products had indeed been improved.

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Wirral Sensory Services - Making sense of research