Did you know the majority of new food products fail once they get on the market – even after extensive consumer testing? Just because something tastes good it doesn't mean the consumer will buy it, says Chris Simons, a sensory researcher with Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
"It's often an unconscious response to what's around us," says Simmons. "Our environment can affect how much we eat, and even how much we like a food. Environmental cues -- visual, auditory, aroma -- can generate cravings that influence food intake."
Simons, whose background is in both sensory science and neuroscience, is now putting the finishing touches on new labs in the Parker Food Science and Technology Building that will help him study human response to such cues, and will hire his first graduate student as a research assistant in August.
One of Simons' new testing grounds is an immersive technologies laboratory.
The first thing a visitor notices is an entire wall covered with high-definition video screens that can set a visual scene for sensory testing -- the interior of a five-star restaurant, for example, or a fast-food burger joint, a home kitchen or an outdoor setting for a picnic.
Less obvious components are surround-sound speakers and a stainless-steel spout jutting from the wall that can pump aromas into the room.
"We could set up tables and chairs in the room that are consistent with, say, a Wendy's restaurant, and re-create the environment that a customer would experience," Simons said. "Then we can alter some things, perhaps pumping in some strong flavor aromas, to see how consumers react to different stimuli."
The back of the room has a one-way mirror that allows researchers to make observations of study participants.
Another lab will allow researchers to gather physiological data, including heart rate, respiration and skin perspiration, to help measure unconscious reactions to various food-related stimuli including flavors, packaging or visual images of company logos.
"It will allow us to gather data measuring responses to different stimuli using methodology that's more objective," Simons said.
The information will help researchers determine how consumers react to stimuli on two dimensions: arousal and liking.