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Virtual reality as a tool for sensory analysis

Virtual reality can contribute to achieving a more detailed view of true consumption conditions while controlling environmental parameters. With support from Qualiment, scientists have now made this technology accessible to SMEs; the equipment required is not expensive and product modelling is facilitated. Work on proof of concept is now under way on cakes such as cookies.

Virtual reality as a tool for sensory analysis
Updated on 02/18/2019
Published on 11/29/2018

Around 3000 new food products are put on the market each year in France, but more than half of them will disappear from the shelves within a year of their launch. This reality is encouraging industry to use sensory analysis during the design phase of their products. The tests are usually performed under highly controlled environmental conditions (standardised sensory analysis booths) that make it possible to establish consumer preferences by comparing products. On the other hand, by standardising tasting conditions, no account is taken of the environment, although this is a determining factor in product assessment. More immersive tests are available (at home, in immersive rooms, etc.) but they are more complex and expensive to implement and suffer from a lack of control over contextual parameters that hampers interpretation of their results.

Virtual reality or how to reconcile improved immersion and control

The scientists decided to test a virtual reality concept that could facilitate product evaluation in contexts that were immersive and controlled. They initiated a major methodological study, notably in order to determine the most relevant products and contexts of use, and how to represent them. The aim was to establish proof of concept of the efficiency of virtual reality in placing the product experience in context.

Environment: from a generic context to private consumption spaces

It seems intuitive to imagine that different contexts of consumption are not equal. Indeed, a consumer could easily imagine himself in a bar if the situation presented to him includes a series of "markers” associated generically with that context: high stools, soft lighting, etc. He will find it difficult to feel he is in his own kitchen if the environment does not represent his home décor. Is it relevant to try and recreate private consumption spaces, or are there contexts that are more conducive to modelling? How should an environment be represented, and based on which criteria? These are some of the questions asked by the scientists and to which they are starting to find answers, although this involves considerable efforts to determine the markers that need to be associated with the representations of different consumption situations. The aim is now to integrate these markers in a software program so that they can be made available for personalisation, as a function of the customer’s needs.

From the simplest to the most complex products

One of the principal challenges of the ongoing project is to determine the categories of products where virtual reality could generate added value. Initial results seem to indicate that heterogeneous processed products, such as biscuits that contain inclusions (fruit, chocolate, etc.) or pizzas are particularly pertinent. By comparison with standard tests, virtual reality enables perfect standardisation of the product offered for tasting (e.g. identical number of inclusions in each biscuit, as well as identical colour, size, shape, position, etc.). This enables freedom from the heterogeneity of a product, whatever its complexity, by guaranteeing that each tester will evaluate the same image.

Technology within everyone’s grasp

The aim of the team behind this project is to democratise virtual reality technology by making it accessible to SMEs. For this reason, the scientists are trying to use inexpensive equipment that is relatively simple to handle, without compromising the realism of the visual image. A finalised demonstrator has been built, comprising a laptop computer and its immersion system, and cookies were used as its first case study.  
Virtual reality could offer new opportunities for product formulation by reducing the delays and costs associated with the design of a food. By manipulating its appearance without having to reconstruct the product in the kitchen, it will be possible to redesign a formulation based on a targeted optimum image. Developments are planned to combine sound and olfactory components with the visual system.
The scientists are looking for food industry professionals who are interested in testing this technology by providing input and enabling the consolidation of ongoing studies. Please do not hesitate to contact David Blumenthal for more information (contact details below).

Scientific contact(s):

  • David BLUMENTHAL AgroParisTech-INRA-Université Paris Saclay Joint Research Unit for Food Process Engineering (UMR GENIAL), 91300 Massy
  • Catherine DACREMONT AgroSup Dijon-CNRS-INRA-Université de Bourgogne – Franche Comté Joint Research Unit – Centre for Taste and Feeding Behaviour (UMR CSGA)., 17 rue Sully, BP 86510, 21065 DIJON
Associated Division(s):
Science for Food and Bioproduct Engineering, Nutrition, Chemical Food Safety and Consumer Behaviour
Associated Centre(s):
Jouy-en-Josas, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté

Partnership contact

Pauline SOUVIGNIER, CBusiness Manager, Carnot Qualiment; tél : +331 42 75 93 31

Institut Carnot Qualiment. © INRA

The QUALIMENT Carnot Institute

Accreditation as a Carnot Institute is awarded to public research structures to certify their scientific excellence and professionalism in their partnership relations. Carnot funds innovative internal projects in the form of annual calls for projects that are selected using criteria of excellence and transferability. The Institute also has ISO 9001 certification regarding the implementation of good contractual and intellectual property practices with its industrial partners.
The aim of the Qualiment Carnot Institute is to facilitate and promote partnership research and provide industry with access to scientific excellence. Each year, it funds several upstream (or in-house) research projects that are designed to generate results that are transferable to industry.
Qualiment can offer private sector actors – whether they are SME or major industrial groups – a range of transversal skills in the food and nutrition field: nutrition, sensory parameters, processes and food structure.