Skip to main content

The common assumption is that our sense of taste is the most important when it comes to food. But studies show that our other senses come into play before taste. When dining out, 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.

Instead of rational reasons, consumers are increasingly influenced by emotions and psychological perceptions in their F&B purchasing journey. They look for 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. In the age of social media, the rise of ‘Instagram’ foods fulfil the desire to see beautiful images of food, which in turn triggers actual appetite. This challenges food service providers to take their food aesthetics to the next level — how menus, meals and meal kits will photograph can have great impact on product awareness and consumption, as well as quality perception.

Food and beverage players can benefit from the sensory food trend by capturing consumer senses through visual appeal, auditory experiences, textural integrity, and nostalgia. This is where micro sensory foods come in – they go beyond taste to focus on specific senses. Consider foods or ingredients that double up as colour enhancers (saffron for visual), new types of garnishing (visually-appealing edible flowers), aroma builders (fragrant kumquat or lemongrass), and textural integrity (chewy Tteokbokki for mouthfeel).

Stirring food memories
Whether you’re dishing up homely, hearty meals that spark nostalgic moments with family, or serving up traditional cuisine that remind customers of their travels, the imagery used will drive the customer back to these memories and stimulate their purchase behaviour. The growing appetite for experiencing the context and culture of world foods is also evolving alongside technological innovation. Apps are being developed to add entertainment to food experiences. Through AR and VR, consumers can dine under the sea or at a rural hillside in Italy— all in the comfort of their homes.

The effect of sound
Breakfast cereal manufacturers have long recognised the importance of sound in suggesting quality and evoking pleasure from consumers. Kellogg’s “Snap, Crackle, and Pop” ads for Rice Krispies has received numerous iterations since it debuted in the 1930s. Research also suggests that consumers equate the fizzy sound of a just-opened carbonated beverage and the crispy crunch of snack chips with freshness. Yet sound has been under-appreciated and under-researched, according to Charles Spence, a psychology professor at the University of Oxford and expert on sensory perception.

Visual appeal
Consumers ‘eat with their eyes’. Today, with so many consumers snapping food photos and posting them on social media, enticing food presentation has never been more crucial for food and beverage products.

Textural robustness
Texture is a critical factor between acceptance or rejection. Consumers look for mouthfeel, which helps them determine whether a food is tough or tender; chewy, mushy or flaky; crispy, crunchy or soggy; cohesive or crumbly; viscous or watery; cool or warm. A product may taste great, but if the texture is grainy or less than desirable, the flavour perception can be skewed based on dislike of the texture. Together with other sensorial factors, texture can inspire an emotional connection between consumers and brands. The multisensory experience created from that product is what makes a brand stand out from the rest, driving not just purchase intent but repeat purchase.

Food and beverage choices have moved far from being one-dimensional as consumers attach more significance to their food choices, prioritising personalisation and adventure, as well as wellness and environmental sustainability. Consumers want to be delighted, surprised and excited by their food. The key to winning them over is to provide a multisensory experience where their food journey taps into as many senses as possible.