Have you ever heard of a Sensory Analyst? Relatively unheard of until relatively recently, this profession is set to bring about significant changes in the food & beverage industry worldwide. And currently, it seems to be an entirely female-dominated field. When Sensory Value opened, almost 20 years ago, it was the very first agency of its kind, at a time when the concept of Sensory Analysis was yet unknown to most professionals in this business. This year the Spanish company is expanding from its native Spain to France and Italy, and it is providing a unique chance for Italian F&B companies to expand internationally.
What’s the point of Sensory Analysis?
We often hear that something is “an acquired taste”. This sentence is most commonly used when talking about foods that many find initially unpleasant and then grow to like – something that many experience when trying a foreign recipe for the first time. In the same way, different nations are known for appreciating different flavours and some delicacies are easier to export than others. While pizza and sushi, for instance, are pretty much universally popular, there are not many outside Sweden that will appreciate the strong pang of Surströmming and many Europeans and Americans still struggle with Kimchi. From a business perspective, this translates into the most common questions that come with the idea of international exports: “will the people of that country enjoy this product?” – This is where Sensory Analysis comes in. By analysing consumer trends in certain markets and carrying out a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of certain products, this technique can forecast, with a high level of accuracy, what the market’s reaction to the introduction of a certain product would be. With this comes the inevitable consultancy about the specific kind of campaign that is most likely to penetrate the desired consumer base effectively. Italian companies, particularly in the agricultural and food industries, are enthusiastically embracing this new trend.
Why do we like what we like?
Sensory analysis is carried out under complex experimental conditions, that include recreating the average temperature and weather in which the product will be consumed within a certain market. Culture and traditions are also factored into the product evaluation, taking into account, for instance, the dietary restrictions of certain religions and the presence of certain ingredients in traditional cooking. Most Middle-Eastern Countries, for instance, tend to favour sweet flavours with fruity – rather than milky or chocolaty – notes. American palates will generally welcome sweetened tastes, whereas most Asian Countries will classify a lot of non-spicy foods as too bland. Significant differences are also to be found in the way in which products are consumed. While Parmigiano Reggiano, for instance, is often consumed as a snack in Italy, and therefore sold in slabs or chunks, in the Middle-East it is almost exclusively sold in bags of pre-grated product.
Exporting your products to Italy: quality control
If you are planning on exporting your products to Italy, you should be aware that simple Sensory Analysis is not going to be enough to make your product both legal and successful. This is partly due to the universal fact that no Country is constituted by one homogenous audience – and that’s why competent Sensory Analysis divides each audience into statistically relevant sub-sections. But there is also another vital factor to consider when exporting to Italy: quality controls, which are among the strictest in the world when it comes to food & beverage. Meeting all the health and quality requirements needed to distribute your products in Italy might mean making significant adjustments to both your production and your communication.