Article by: Avinash Lal
Market Research and Consumer Insights Director
Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa
Studies show that when it comes to food, our other senses come into play before taste. We make our choices based on the aromas we smell in the air, and the menu options and food we see others eating. We only get to taste it when the food arrives.
Emotions and psychological perceptions influence what consumers choose to eat and drink. They seek a multisensory experience associated with a meal or product ─ from peer-to-peer sharing, experience design, product journeys and stories, to augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) enhancements.
As a result, food and beverage choices have moved far from being one-dimensional as consumers prioritise personalisation and adventure, as well as wellness and environmental sustainability. This is especially true of younger Millennials and Generation Z consumers.
Foods that previously resonated with all generations, such as a white bread sandwich, boxed macaroni and cheese, and canned fruit cocktail, hold little allure for today’s foodies. Thanks to the power of social media, younger consumer groups are exposed to different types of foods, including different textures and appearances. They are eager to try new, innovative cuisines and beverages as well as unique ingredient combinations, and to share their discoveries with others.
Given changing expectations, food and beverage players can benefit from the sensory food trend by captivating consumer senses through visual and auditory experiences, textural integrity, and nostalgia. This is where micro sensory foods come in ─ they go beyond taste to focus on specific senses. For example, Saffron as a colour enhancer (visual), pretty edible flowers as new types of garnishing (visual), fragrant kumquat or lemongrass as aroma builders, and chewy Tteokbokki to render texture and mouthfeel.
Consumers ‘eat with their eyes’. An experiment conducted by Alícia Foundation in Spain showed visual impact at work. People rated a pinkish strawberry mousse as tasting 7% sweeter, 13% more flavourful, and 9% more enjoyable when it was served on a white plate as compared to a black plate. Today, with so many consumers posting photos on social media, enticing food presentation has never been more crucial. This changes the game for food service providers to level up their food aesthetics — how menus, meals and meal kits will photograph can have great impact on product awareness and consumption, as well as quality perception.
Stimulating nostalgia and tapping on novel experiences
Whether a hearty meal that sparks nostalgic moments with family, or cuisine that reminds someone of their travels, the sensory choice around a food product will drive a consumer back to these memories and influence what they buy. There is also growing appetite for experiencing the context and culture of world foods. Apps are being developed to make food experiences entertaining. Through AR and VR, consumers can dine under the sea or at a rural hillside in Italy — all in the comfort of their homes.
Take for example Michelin-starred restaurant Quince at San Francisco; its dish ‘A Dog in Search of Gold’ consists of chestnut crisps, celeriac, porcini and ricotta truffle, served on an iPad playing a video of a dog searching for truffles. Black Rock London’s whisky river has guests drinking from a large 185-year-old oak tree that’s been turned into a gigantic whisky filled table. The venue adds a different label each week to one of the ‘rivers’, creating an ever-evolving house blend.
Power of sound
Breakfast cereal manufacturers understand the importance of sound in suggesting quality and stirring pleasure. Since its debut in the 1930s, Kellogg’s “Snap, Crackle, and Pop” ads for Rice Krispies have proven the effectiveness of sensory sound. Research shows that consumers associate the fizzy sound of a just-opened carbonated beverage and the crunch of crisps with freshness. Yet, sensory sound remains largely underrated.
Bite and texture
Texture can be the deal breaker in purchasing decisions. Consumers want mouthfeel, which helps them determine whether a food is tough or tender; chewy, crispy, or soggy; cohesive or crumbly; cool or warm. A product may taste great, but if the texture is grainy or falls short, the flavour perception can be undesirable. Together with other sensorial factors, texture can trigger an emotional connection between consumers and brands.
Sensory innovation can also benefit consumers looking for functional and healthier food options. For older consumers with swallowing difficulties, foods can be created in a form that makes swallowing easier, while offering palatable texture, mouthful and health benefits. For instance, foods like beetroot, matcha, saffron, and mint cardamom can add to the sensory food experience while being good for the body.
Consumers want to be delighted, surprised and excited by their food, and a multisensory experience that leverages many senses and sensations is the way to win them over.
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