ASIA Food with sensory appeal makes sense to modern, younger sophisticated consumers April 2021

As modern young consumers become more sophisticated, tastes and flavors are no longer the main deciding factors in their purchases. They now demand for foods that awake or activate some or all of their senses.

These are referred to as ‘micro sensory foods’ – foods that go beyond taste to focus on specific senses – visual, olfactory and mouthfeel. These can range from foods/ingredients that double up as colour enhancers (visual), new types of garnishing (visual), aroma builders (smell), and textural integrity (mouthfeel). “Think saffron for colour, kumquat which is fragrant and targets the olfactory, edible flowers as a garnish for visual appeal and chewy Tteokbokki for mouthfeel.”


Sensory foods appeal to Millennials, Generation Z

Consumer purchasing decisions are increasingly being fuelled by emotional returns and psychological benefits and less for rational reasons. In food and beverages, we see this in consumers looking for a multisensory experience associated with a meal or product. This journey includes peer-to-peer sharing, story culture, experience design, product journeys and stories, and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) enhancements. In the age of social media, the rise of ‘Instagram’ foods is satisfying a growing desire to view beautiful images of food which in turn triggers actual appetite. This changes the game for food service providers to take their food aesthetics up a notch — 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 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. This is especially true of younger Millennials and Generation Z consumers. Foods that previously resonated with all generations of mainstream consumers, such as a white bread sandwich, boxed macaroni and cheese, and canned fruit cocktail, hold no allure for contemporary foodies. Thanks to the power of social media, younger consumer groups are exposed to different types of foods, including different textures and appearances, creating interest and demand. They are eager to try novel cuisines and beverages as well as unique ingredient combinations, and to share their discoveries with others.


Food manufacturers should capitalise on the sensory innovation

Food and beverage players can benefit from the sensory food trend by capturing consumer senses through key elements such as visual appeal, auditory experiences, textural integrity, and nostalgia:


Visual deliciousness

Consumers ‘eat with their eyes’. They focus on the appearance of food as that’s what would create Instagram-worthy images. 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.


Attract with 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 as Charles Spence, a psychology professor at the University of Oxford and expert on sensory perception, has noted that sound has been under-appreciated and under-researched in the food industry and academia, indicating that there is much room for growth when it comes to auditory experiences in food.


Ensure textural integrity

When it comes to texture, what consumers look for is mouthfeel. It’s what helps them determine whether it’s tough or tender; chewy, mushy or flaky; hard or soft; crispy, crunchy or soggy; cohesive or crumbly; viscous or watery; cool or warm. Texture is a critical factor between acceptance or rejection. A product may have the most elegant flavour, 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.


Nostalgia sells

Whether you’re offering homely, hearty meals that spark memories of moments with family, or serving up traditional Japanese 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 complement and add entertainment to food experiences. Through AR and VR, consumers can dine under the sea, at a rural hillside in Italy, or sip Californian wine at the vineyard it was made in — all in the comfort of their homes.

Successful case study where sensory innovation is applied in a product

In 2020, Kerry was given the opportunity to create seasonal beverage concepts for a leading global beverage company. The visuals of the beverage were paramount along with supporting data on flavour trends. The overall concept was to be a mix of familiar and innovative flavours to ensure mass appeal across markets while at the same time, be trendsetting and Instagrammable. Our cross functional teams brainstormed on beverage themes, technological focus, operational feasibility and creativity. A big part of what enabled us to deliver the right sensorial experience was understanding the beverage procedures in-store and ensuring our products work within existing SOP guidelines without much alteration. We also had to understand the taste of existing products and create flavours that complement them in taste and texture.

We used only natural flavours and natural colourings to develop the products and collaborated with creative designers to bring  to life our ideas through realistic illustrations and theme designs. In the past, we used to invest resources into raw material sourcing and prototype sample development which resulted in a lower win percentage but higher cost. About one-and-a-half years ago, we decided to shift the focus to illustrations to demonstrate Kerry’s creative capabilities in the innovation space. This allowed our customer to select from more choices while having a visual understanding of how the final product would look like in-store. We then worked with food scientists to determine the density of each product and impact of natural colours on the final beverage application.

Referencing a Pantone chart, we got our creative agency to generate realistic illustrations of beverage layers, cream layers, sauce drizzle textures, inclusions, and toppings to complete the look of a beverage. This greatly improved the return of investment on our projects as it enabled the customer to visualise how our attention to detail would enable them to create the ideal beverage. We delivered on the brief in a short 3-week lead time. The customer had requested for samples and confirmed that the Vanilla Bean Custard Sauce, Salted Caramel Syrup, and Marshmallow Syrup would be rolled out for summer.


Will sensory innovation be an important feature of any food product in Asian societies ??

While the region already has a deep food culture that appeal to the various senses, there are still untapped areas of growth. To ride the multisensory food trend, businesses should go beyond food by creating a fully immersive and stimulating experience around the food.

Many assume our sense of taste is the most prominent when it comes to food. But studies show that our other senses come into play before taste. In reality, when making decisions on where to eat, we tend to base it on word-of-mouth recommendations. At the restaurant, we make our choices based on the aromas we smell in the air, and the menu options and food we see others are eating. We only get to touch and taste it for ourselves when the food arrives. 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.

Some examples include Le Petit Chef Asia using unique 3D mapping to give diners an immersive culinary journey. With exciting background music, a host narrates each course while a light show is projected onto the table as their dishes are served, creating a multisensory experience that is part theatre and part dining. The dining experience is currently available in selected hotels in the region in cities like Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Jakarta, and Hanoi. 

Elsewhere, at Michelin-starred restaurant Quince at San Francisco, its dish ‘A Dog in Search of Gold’ consists of chestnut crisps, celeriac, porcini and ricotta truffle, served on an iPad playing a video of a dog searching for truffles. Black Rock London’s whisky river has guests drinking from a large 185-year-old oak tree that’s been turned into a gigantic whisky-filled table. The venue adds a different label each week to one of the ‘rivers’, creating an ever-evolving house blend.

Sensory innovation can be applied to plant-based alternatives

Sensory appeal and innovation are critical in accelerating new product development and new categories.  It is possible to apply sensory innovation to plant-based alternatives but manufacturers face the challenge of presenting healthy and sustainable alternatives that don’t compromise on taste and texture. If repeat buying is to flourish, overall quality and sensorials need to match consumer expectations.


Sensory innovation is compatible with healthy, clean-label products

Sensory innovation can enhance existing products to cater to consumers looking for functional and healthier alternatives. For example, older consumers who have difficulty swallowing can benefit from innovation that presents the same food in a format which makes swallowing easier and more palatable, meeting the demand for a food product that has elements of health, wellness, texture and mouthfeel. There are also a lot of ingredients such as beetroot, matcha, saffron, and mint cardamom, that can add to a sensorial journey and have associated functional benefits.


This article is contributed by Avinash Lal, Market Research & Consumer Insights Director, Kerry Asia Pacific, Middle East, Africa. Kerry is the world’s leading taste & nutrition company. For more information, visit




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