Research suggests tools for assessing ‘sensory fairness’ of food claims

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Taste Psychology

A new study from Denmark sets out a basis for understanding sensory aspects of consumers’ belief that food products have been sold using misleading marketing materials, and could lead to new tools to test ‘sensory-fairness’.

Of a review of 821 complaints in Denmark about misleading food labelling, less than 7 per cent overtly involved sensory properties such as taste, smell, texture and visual appearance. For the researchers from Copenhagen Business School and the Technical University of Denmark, this was surprising as sensory expectations are said to be the most important factor in food purchase decision-making.

“It seems reasonable to expect that sensory factors would also be of great importance when consumers feel disappointed or, ultimately, misled by a product and/or its immediate presentation,”​ they wrote in a paper accepted for publication in the journal Food Quality and Preference.

While the review might indicate that sensory expectations were less important than presumed, the researchers suggested another explanation. The consumers could be relying on ‘harder’ product facts to explain their disappointment, as sensory or cognitive judgements are not very easy to verbalise. This could particularly the case when a complaint leads to legal action.

For their study, the team of researchers closely examined the 89 cases where sensory reasons where said to be the cause of disgruntled consumers, and drew up a taxonomy of the roles sensory elements and arguments played in the case materials.

This involved translating the assumptions and reasoning presented in the cases into more explicit theoretical terms, drawing on the disciplines of semiotics, cognitive psychology and cognitive linguistics.

The work is said to be “a first step towards approaching the sensory aspects of fair in-store food-to-consumer communication in operational terms”.

The researchers suggests that, in the future, ‘sensory forensics’ could be developed to help decision-makers deal with legal prohibition of misleading information about food products, and improve the factual basis for legal decisions.

“Further research is likely to create new tools for pre-testing the ‘sensory-fairness’ of food products as part of self-regulatory measures taken by food manufacturers,”​ the team concluded.


Food Quality and Preferences


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