The secret recipe for a successful sensory panel

Image of Fabienne Hübener
Fabienne Hübener

A sensory panel functions like a small business. The goals, methods and interpersonal climate must fit well together in order for it to be successful. isi panel leaders reveal what makes for a good panel and how to set one up.

isi advises companies that want to set up their own sensory panel or make their existing one more efficient. Digital methods play a central role, but panel training, data quality and communication stay in focus as well. The aim is to reduce workload, adapt sensory methods optimized to more narrowly fit the desired objectives and increase the reliability of the results achieved.

"The knowledge of what makes a good sensory panel is often implicit," reports Agnès Wiegand, Senior Sensory Manager at isi. "We sat down and worked out which aspects have a greater role in making it all work well together. This has resulted in a systematic approach that we are now passing on to companies that want to take their panel to the next level."

 

Do you want to learn more about the different methods you can use with a sensory panel? We created a free overview for you: 

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New isi service: Sensory Panel Development and Management (SPDM)

Interview with Agnès Wiegand and Cordula Lampe, isi Senior Sensory Managers

 

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"How much does the juice taste like apple?" Only a human can answer that, not a machine.

 

You completed development of a new service at isi. Imagine we just met in the elevator, and you only have the time it takes to get to the top floor to tell me about it. Please give me your elevator pitch.

Agnès: We help companies build, train, and optimize sensory panels. Isi has decades of experience running panels and have noticed that our clients, some of whom also run their own in-house panels, benefit from our support in this area. We became particularly aware of this while setting up sensory panels abroad. The panel leaders had many questions and often reported back to us that our approach had increased the efficiency of their panels. This led us to the idea to pass on our experience and knowledge - including informal knowledge - in a structured and systematic way. As a result, clients can be certain that that their sensory panels are built upon the most up to date scientific standards.

Pling 😊. The elevator arrives. Let's get off and take a deeper look. Not everyone knows what a sensory panel is. How would you explain it in simple terms?

Cordula: Imagine you want to better understand an orange juice, but you don't have a machine that can tell you how it tastes, how much it tastes like orange, how sweet it tastes. These questions can be answered by specially trained testers, precisely the members that make up the sensory panel. With the help of lists, they can objectively describe a product. For example, they rate the orange taste or sweetness on a scale from zero to ten. The resulting profile helps to compare a product with others or to see what happens when and if the recipe is changed. In the end, the goal is to better match the tastes of consumers with a new or changed product. Our client then receives a presentation with the analysis of the data, which can then serve as a roadmap for the new development or further development of the product. The science - from psychophysics to statistics - behind sensory panel work is complex, but our presentation of results is visual and easy to understand. For the client, this analysis saves money. It can prevent an unattractive product from entering the market and becoming a poor performer.

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isi provides consulting services both in the establishment and in the further development of sensory panels.

 

The clients who commission your service are probably already aware of the benefits of a sensory panel or already have their own experience with sensory panels. What can you contribute with your knowledge?

Cordula: Our offer is aimed both at companies with little or no panel experience as well as companies that have been using sensory panels for a long time. We adjust the content to fit the current stage of their development. We offer support with panel set-up and panel optimization.

Agnès: The panel can be set up internally in a company or in a country where the company is not located. We train the people responsible for the panel, ensure that the panel quality meets isi requirements. We are the point of contact for questions. When it comes to a panel abroad, we first look for the right partner in the target country. In doing so, we have a special feel for the conditions in different countries. This involves a lot of organizational and communication work, which we take off our clients' hands in this phase of the set-up process. The customer then decides whether he wants to continue with or without us after the set-up.

How can you make existing panels even more efficient?

Agnès: We ask ourselves four central questions. How can we speed up the processes? How can we optimize data quality? Which methods best fit the questions the panel is supposed to answer? How can we strengthen panel performance?

Faster - doesn't that also lead to a loss of quality?

Cordula: No, on the contrary. We give our guidance in such a way that processes are accelerated, and quality is maintained or increased at the same time. As a rule, the topic of digitalization plays an important role here. Here is only one example: A panel is asked to enter the spiciness of ketchup variants on a sheet of paper. Then, one by one, the panelists call out their information to the panel leadership. The panel leader collates the results and uses them to create a presentation on the overhead projector. Of course, this can all be done digitally, so that the panel leader has the results and the presentation in a matter of seconds. In this way, more results can be compiled and discussed, which means that the training is much more efficient and detailed. However, some panels lack the appropriate software to speed up and simplify processes. We provide solutions for this.

 

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An outsider perspective can reveal and prevent unwanted distortions in the results.

 

And what do you mean by "optimize data quality"?

Agnès: With a proprietary panel, there is a risk that the results will be what the business environment expects. This is an unconscious bias. If, for example, the panel leader puts a lot of emphasis on the saltiness attribute in the panel training because that's exactly the attribute that was varied in the product, then the panelists will pay more attention to it. Without this hint, however, the panelists might not have noticed any difference. We can restore objectivity with an unbiased view of the processes.

What methods can you use to support your customers?

Cordula: It is not about a specific method, but about a suitable one. Perhaps a panel has always used the complex spectrum method, for example, but a different and faster method would deliver equally good data. We have a large toolbox of methods with us and make suitable suggestions to our clients depending on the task at hand. This usually leads to significant time savings.

 

Do you want to learn more about the different methods you can use with a sensory panel? We created a free overview for you: 

download our toolbox

 

 

Boosting panel performance - that sounds like a lot of horsepower under the hood. How does that work?

Agnès: (Laughs) Yes, you could say that: we take good care of the engine. The driving force behind everything here remains the people. When I first joined isi, one thing struck me immediately: The panel leaders are very committed. They have built relationships with the panelists and are appreciative of them. A good panel leader knows how to keep a team going, how to handle crises and arguments, and how to motivate the team. All of this can be trained too. At the heart of this is the knowledge and appreciation for good communication. In this regard, we are happy to share our experience.


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Surprising solutions: Think-outside-the-box is part of the isi consulting philosophy.

 

What is the secret of a good panel line?

Cordula: We have always understood that we depend on the people in the panels and that successful cooperation occurs when you connect on a personal level. For example, I went out for pizza with my panelists as a group once a month. I also tell my panelists when one of the products they tested has successfully landed on the shelf. We share information about new trends, such as vegan products, via WhatsApp groups. This creates a sense of belonging to a group that is defined by more than just the work. In ten years, I haven't experienced a panelist who has left out of dissatisfaction.

Two more questions to finish. What do your clients expect during the consultation?

Cordula: We listen carefully to find out what our clients are looking for. We find the solutions - with a think-outside-the-box approach - and make sure that the changes are implemented quickly. In the end, we are especially happy about receiving two kinds of feedback: "I didn't think it was that easy" and "You saved us a lot of time".

For which product would you especially like to build a panel?

Agnès: Whether washing machines or herbal drinks - I'm curious about all kinds of products. Since I bring a lot of intercultural experience with me, I'm especially excited about building up panels abroad.

Cordula: At isi we have accumulated a lot of knowledge on the topic of meat and dairy substitutes and the topics also interests me personally. Therefore, I particularly enjoy setting up panels for these products.

 

 

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Cordula Lampe has been working for isi for almost ten years. She studied Nutritional Sciences at the University of Vienna and, as an experienced panel leader, knows that nothing motivates more than good personal contact.

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Agnès Wiegand joined isi one and a half years ago. She studied chemistry and marketing in Paris, business administration in Worms and is trained in conflict management. Her advice for a successful panel: "Wherever people come together, there will be conflicts. You shouldn't sweep the problems under the carpet, but rather see them as an opportunity for growth.

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photos:
1. participants: isi Archive
2. juices: Fabienne Hübener
3. talk: LinkedIn Sales Solutions / Unsplash.com
4. packages: isi Archiv
5. dog: erda estremera / Unsplash.com

 

 

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