Reflecting on 20 Years of Sensory Research

We’re celebrating 20 years of sensory research and – would you believe it? – that makes us an old-timer in this industry!

So, of course we have to reflect on the last two decades at ISR. What’s changed in sensory research and what might be in store for the next 20 years?

Here are our observations about how sensory research has evolved, at least from the ISR perspective!

Category Expansion

It used to be that sensory research was the purview of food and beverage manufacturers alone. Over time, other product categories have sought insights from sensory research. For example, our personal care clients were one of the first in the industry to leverage sensory research for everything from formulation changes to category appraisals.  Now, sensory research is widely used in skin, hair and oral care…so much so that we have 12 dedicated, highly-utilized sink booths in our facility. 

Sensory research is also increasingly used in other “non-traditional sensory” categories.  Among the most frequent users are household and automotive care (think fragrance and texture measurements) and tech-based personal care products (think light therapy and electric exfoliators).

Research Agility

As with so much in our 5G world, speed has become king, and sensory research is no exception.  Where clients used to have months available for a sensory project, now they need guidance in weeks.  Fortunately, having trained sensory panels and experienced sensory research staff enables research agility.  And, we’ve incorporated new methodologies that enable clients to gain insights quickly.

Global Reach

Here too, sensory research reflects the intercontinental world we live in.  Whether it’s U.S. clients looking for sensory analysis in new markets or international clients seeking sensory research in America, global reach and the ability to craft a comprehensive global research plan is essential.  While most clients seek foundational sensory work, we do see global studies over time, such as multi-year category appraisals – which are particularly important in evolving markets.

Tech First

We’d be remiss in not including a mention about the growing importance of technology in sensory research, despite the fact that we were one of the first agencies to incorporate computers into the sensory lab (while others were still recording data on pen and paper!).  Today’s tech includes touchpad computers, cameras and microphones in every testing booth, web-enabled video cameras, wireless tablets, video conferencing, digital audio and video recording, and wireless internet access.

Sensory Panels Coming Full Circle

In the beginning, there were sensory panels at sensory research agencies. Then, there were sensory panels at client sites.  Now, despite there being client site panels, those panels are often outsourced to sensory agencies for recruiting, training and managing.  Further as return on investment (ROI) becomes the new old word, clients are finding that their on-site panels are often inefficient and labor intensive, with constant struggles to find work to keep their panels engaged. And so, in many ways, sensory panels have come full circle with research moving back into the sensory company for trained, semi-trained and even consumer panels. 

From speed and tech demands to ROI and worldly views, two decades of sensory research have reaffirmed what we already know:  sensory research reflects the products, the clients, the world which it serves.

We look forward to serving you for another 20 years and beyond.

Thank you for partnering with us in this exciting sensory journey.

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