Interview with Dr Sonja Schwarz, arotop sensory insights department at Limbach Analytics GmbH “Only a delicious product is a successful product in the long run”

Chocolaty, creamy, tasty – consumer researcher Dr Sonja Schwarz reveals the power that sensory claims have on consumers. What exactly is behind the food industry's sensory advertising slogans and what needs to be taken into account?

Interview with Dr Sonja Schwarz, arotop sensory insights at Limbach Analytics GmbH

“Only a delicious product is a successful product in the long run”

Chocolaty, creamy, tasty – consumer researcher Dr Sonja Schwarz reveals the power that sensory claims have on consumers. What exactly is behind the food industry's sensory advertising slogans and what needs to be taken into account?


"Sensory Claims – the new tool for successful and sensual product advertising" – this is the title of your web seminar at Week of Market Research on May 10th. What can participants expect?

Dr Sonja Schwarz: In this seminar, participants will be introduced to the most important innovations on the topic of sensory claims. Sensory claims are campaign slogans that advertise the sensory properties of products, e.g. "now even tastier" or "extra creamy". But they also include emotional statements such as "tastes like home-baked" or "the most delicious cake ever". Sensory claims can now be used better and more safely in advertising thanks to new guidelines. In my opinion, this will change food advertising. And no manufacturer should miss out on this opportunity, otherwise the competitor will do it. 

► Sign up now for the web seminar with Dr Sonja Schwarz on 10 May, at 3 pm! The session will be held in German. 

Why are products with sensory claims more successful than products without? What do the claims trigger in us?

Dr Sonja Schwarz: Especially with food, the sensory perception, e.g. the taste, the smell or the mouthfeel, decides whether you like the product or not. Only a delicious product is a successful product in the long run. But how can this "tasty" be transported to the consumer without having tried it? This is exactly where the sensory claims come in. If you see two cakes on the shelf, one advertised as "chocolate cake with 30% chocolate", the other with "our best chocolate cake – chocolaty, moist, delicious!", you notice straight away that the second one is much more appealing and emotionally more positively received than the first one, regardless of whether we have tried it or not. We want to buy this one and not the other one.

Consumers are creatures of habit – at least when it comes to everyday purchases – and mostly use same (FMCG) products. Do sensory claims also have the power to dissuade them from their shopping routine? 

Dr Sonja Schwarz: I am convinced of that. Sensory claims encourage a first purchase. You can use them to make consumers aware that there are products that could be even more moisty, chocolaty or better than the product they are used to. Without a claim it would be just another cake, but with a claim it would be a "really chocolaty" one, which people would like to try out, because there might be something better than the one they are common with.

The online food trade has also experienced a boom due to Corona, to what extent do sensory claims also work online? 

Dr Sonja Schwarz: They are already much more established there than in the stationary trade. Take a look at the homepages of food start-ups in particular. There is no neutrally described product, but they all advertise, at least in the product description, with countless statements about how great the product tastes or feels. It is precisely through the claims that the products can also be experienced by consumers in the online shops. In addition to brand and price, this is one of the key distinguishing features of the products and helps in the selection process.

Coming up with a sensory claim on your own seems easy at first, so why then do companies need your help? What is important to consider?

Dr Sonja Schwarz: There are several reasons for considering professional help: For one, only fitting claims lead to a positive experience for the customer after the initial purchase. If the claim and the product experience do not match, the consumer is disappointed and will never buy it again. This is something we can optimally develop for our clients and also check. And secondly, inaccurate sensory claims fall under the prohibition of general misleading according to the Food Information Regulation (LMIV). Worst case, an injunction can be issued by competitors or the investigation authorities and a product recall is imminent. So you really have to be sure that the claim you use is accurate and you have to have the appropriate evidence at hand. And this is exactly where we come into play, as we can provide this to the customer for the appropriate product. Therefore we are working with tests according to the new DIN and ISO standards for Sensory Claim substantiation.

If all products have sensory claims, won’t that quickly become arbitrary and interchangeable?

Dr Sonja Schwarz: Since the proof of claims requires a certain amount of effort, only a few private label products will use them; here, branded products can positively distinguish themselves with an advantage. But even if categories are often occupied with claims, they can provide unbeatable orientation for the consumer. Take the example of cheese: many self-service packaged varieties advertise with either "nutty-mild" or "spicy-intense". Here, the Sensory Claims help to find the right cheese. Personally, I don't like nutty-mild varieties. With the claim I can avoid these unliked samples and I will not be disappointed. With the claims, product disappointments and thus brand disappointments are avoided, because the end consumer often differentiates less by variety than by brand.

Where do you see the biggest challenges in product advertising for companies today and in the future?

Dr Sonja SchwarzConsumers are less tolerant than ever of negative product experiences. Both variations in the recipe or unsatisfactory tastings lead consumers to stop buying the brand or product for a long time. After all, there is a strong oversupply in Germany and alternatives are available at any time and in large numbers. Therefore, every single food product must be flawless and meet consumer expectations. This is why suitable advertising and a suitable approach are so important. Consumers want to know whether they are buying a crumbly or a crunchy biscuit. If they choose the one that is advertised as "crispy", it must really be crispy. Otherwise they will be disappointed.

Which target group are you addressing with your web seminar?

Dr Sonja Schwarz: I am addressing all people involved in the promotion of FMCG products – almost all of these products can be pushed by a sensory claim.


Dr Sonja Schwarz is head of the arotop sensory insights department at Limbach Analytics GmbH and has been working in sensory consumer research for 20 years. She holds a doctorate in biology and is deputy chairwoman of the DIN Sensory Standards Committee, where she headed the Sensory Claims working group. She has been a board member of the German Sensory Society (DGSens e.V.) since 2019. Furthermore, she has been lecturing in the field of sensory technology and market research for various institutions for over 15 years and supervises various research and project work.

 This interview was originally published in German on – here.

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