InnoKOL | Herbert Stone, PhD : Products Must Be Liked as Products before One Can Expect Them to Succeed in The Context of Brand

2019/09/30 Innoverview Read

On Sept.30th(GMT+8), we had great honor of interviewing the sensory & consumer sciences expert Herbert Stone, PhD, CFS, who is the Independent Consultant on Sensory Systems and prior President of IFT(Institute of Food Technologists). He shared the deep insight on sensory evalution and consumer behavior analysis,futhermore the unique experience on being the member of project teams for Apollo Moon Mission and J.F. Kennedy’s “Alianza para Progresso” program.

Innoverview:What’s your motto?

Herbert: It’s a Science

Innoverview: Can you please share more about your educational and professional background? And we’d love to hear what brought you to sensory science.

Herbert: I was interested in understanding why we choose the foods we eat. 

I completed my undergraduate college education as a Food Science major at the University of Massachusetts.  I worked during college as a short-order cook and on other food-related jobs to support my education.   In my senior year I did a project on matté involving taste testing and it stimulated my interest in the topic of taste testing, which is called sensory evaluation.  Directly after receiving my degree I served in the US Army.  After basic training, I was sent to Korea where I became an instructor teaching cooking and baking.  In this time period I became familiar with the impact of food likes and dislikes and related issues. After discharge, I returned to University and completed an MSc in color chemistry.  I moved to the University of California for my PhD in Nutrition with a specific focus on the sense of smell and its effect on food choices.  AT UC Davis I was connected with another graduate student, Rose Marie Pangborn, and spent the rest of my time at Davis working on sensory evaluation research, and serving as the TA for the first academic course in sensory evaluation.  After finishing my degree I joined the Research Institute and Stanford University.   I spent the next 12 years doing research, including developing the QDA methodology, as well as many other kinds of research.  After 12 years, I and n associate, left Stanford and established Tragon Corporation.  The primary focus was helping companies develop sensory capabilities for all kinds of consumer products, including food and wine, running shoes, golf clubs, fabrics, diapers, home and personal care products.  A testing facility also was developed and available on a contract basis.  We typically fielded 100+ sensory tests in a year.  My associates and I also developed a series of sensory courses teaching basic principles as well as practical applications.

Innoverview: Sensory evaluation is the main method of analysis in sensory science and is defined as ‘a scientific method used to evoke, measure, analyze and interpret those responses to products as perceived through the senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing’. Could you share a case on how to carry out an effective sensory evaluation? Is there any difference among the application in Food& Beverage, Cosmetics and Drug industry?

Herbert: Fielding a sensory test begins with understanding the objective and how the results will be used. All too often sensory scientists do not understand the reason why a test is being requested.  Often requestors also are unclear as to the purpose for a test.


An example of an application would be the winery that experienced a 2/3rds drop in sales in seasons.   Management was not satisfied with progress so external assistance was obtained.   Using a combination of sensory, physical and chemical analysis combined with consumer information, it was possible to identify the kinds of quantitative changes need to be made to better fit the product with consumer expectations and reverse the decline.  Success was made possible by developing a data base of sensory and chemical analyses and use regression analyses with consumer preference measures.   This led to identifying a subset of wines that best met the preferences of the target population.   The next year saw consumers returning to the wine and sales increasing over the following years. 


Using sensory evaluation for a non-food product does not mean inventing new methods; rather it means using the resources in different ways.  It does not mean a new method is needed, rather, the current method is used in a different way.  One still needs qualified subjects, use of a repeated trials design, a plan to adapt the method to the product.  Evaluating shampoos is not like evaluating food, but one can still do descriptive analysis, etc.

Innoverview: Currently, the new challenges facing the food industry are progressively transforming sensory to a more proactive role, responsible for generating new product ideas based on unique sensory properties or unique consumer segments identified only through sensory behavior. From your perspective, what are the opportunities and challenges of conducting sensory evaluation in the future? Will sensory evaluation be taken place by cutting-edge technologies?

Herbert: In today’s interconnected world, sensory scientists are being asked to do work historically the responsibility of product teams most of whom have disappeared from a company.  Business people often think that one does not need such people; it is easier to buy the information.  While sensory resources are a valuable way of accessing the consumer, sensory scientists are rarely trained in the social sciences and are not properly trained to have a productive dialogue with consumers.

Combined with access to thousands of consumers and a multitude of statistical software, it is easy to discover all sorts of information.  It does not mean that it is meaningful.  Consumers are different from each other and especially in how they use language to communicate.  They will use different words to represent the same sensation and the same word to represent different sensations.  One hears about using big data and specialized software, there is little evidence to date that shows its usefulness.   The internet has facilitated all sorts of activities that took a lot of time in the past, such as recruiting and scheduling subjects/consumers, monitoring data collection, real time data analysis, and subject performance records, and so forth.  Statistics is necessary to summarize information but it cannot think for the human, at least not yet.   In my interactions with younger professionals I hear complaints that reflect a lack of ability to communicate effectively with management, how to interact with technical associates especially about sharing results and what they mean. Products do not succeed without a good connection with the marketing message; products must be liked as products before one can expect them to succeed in the context of brand, etc.

Innoverview: You were involved in the project team for the food and food delivery system for the Apollo Moon Mission during 1963-1965, what role did you play and what contribution did you make?

Herbert: I was a junior member of the project team working on the food for the Apollo mission; the primary focus was on how to deliver the food and the type food was almost secondary.  I had the astronauts complete a detailed list of their food likes and dislikes using the 9-pt hedonic scale.  I was looking for any specific foods they did not like.   Because of their dedication they stated they had no dislikes which turned out to not be true as after the mission a unanimous complaint was the monotony and tasteless ness of the food.  My experience was how to integrate what I had learned to a collection of engineers whose entire focus was on a delivery system and not about including the food as part of it.  It took time but we succeeded because we had a deadline. 

Innoverview: As the member of J.F. Kennedy’s “Alianza para Progresso” program on techno- economic development in Peru in 1964, could you share the amazing experience on this?

Herbert: That experience has stayed with me.  Recently I met a friend from Venezuela who asked me about my work experience in Central and South America. This began with my time spent working in Peru.   It taught me about the challenges of working in a developing country where typical resources were not available, where farmers were very suspicious of strangers, especially if connected with a government, and would not talk until they felt you wanted to help them.  I saw typical signs of malnutrition which I only had seen in books.   A discussion with local officials about these issues was “eye opening” as there were different views as to how it might be solved.  For several years after that experience I was still involved in communicating with individuals and groups working with the farmers.  What impacted me the most was being a good listener, to be sure to understood what was the problem before deciding what would be the best course of action.

Innoverview: Nutrition education has been evolving, but it’s still struggling for a permanent place in the school day. How nutrition education is changing from your experience and perspective?

Herbert: Nutrition and Food Science have to develop integrated educational programs, not separate.  Consumers, for the most part, do not eat nutrition, they eat food.  More recently, consumer groups are focusing on nutrition first; however, it is very early in this trend to determine when “taste” becomes the key to success.   Lecturing consumers is usually not effective, but listening to their challenges before deciding what to do has shown to be more effective.

I currently am working with local educators in a pilot program in a school in China.  The program involves teaching pre-teens about food and using their senses as part of making better food choices.  With the support of their parents and school officials,  there now are efforts to obtain more financial support to expand the program to other schools.


Innoverview: Sensory marketing is not only used by car manufacturers, but also by a wide variety of companies in industries ranging from food and beverage to real estate and from apparel to hardware.  What’s your suggestions on how to utilize sensory marketing in Food& Beverage industry?

Herbert: A.  Sensory information is not understood nor is it used effectively.  There is a lack of basic knowledge about the senses, about the differences among people and how to measures the differences, using methods not appropriate to the problem, and reliance on some software without regard for whether it is appropriate for the test method. 

B.  Sensory scientists need to be more effective communicators if they expect to be successful.  Success means having the data to support a recommendation; i.e., reliability and the external validity that support the conclusions.