Before they claim to have created the crispest chip, the beefiest burger or the best shine-producing shampoo, firms first can reference ASTM standards that will help them confidently - and convincingly - make those statements.
ASTM International Committee E18 on Sensory Evaluation is charged with developing standards that govern those "most, best, first, biggest, only" advertising claims - and much more. Formed in 1960, E18 comprises about 240 members with jurisdiction over more than 30 standards. E18 subcommittees include:
The sensory field, simply put, focuses on the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. According to committee member John Ennis, vice president of research operations at The Institute for Perception, Richmond, Va., the industrial application of sensory science focuses on the sensory experiences that consumer packaged goods, such as skin creams, beverages and food, provide their users.
Committee E18's standards are critical for firms in numerous fields, particularly those developing, manufacturing and marketing food and personal care products. The standards also eventually can impact consumers.
Producing soda and evaluating what type of container will be best? E460, Practice for Determining Effect of Packaging on Food and Beverage Products During Storage, can help decide whether to keep the original can or replace it with a new version.
Heading out to a favorite Mexican restaurant? ASTM's E1395, Test Method for the Sensory Evaluation of Low Heat Chilies, may have flavored the menu.
Concerned the house might not be up to par for weekend guests? E1593, Guide for Assessing the Efficacy of Air Care Products in Reducing Sensorly Perceived Indoor Air Malodor Intensity, may have had a role in developing that lemony scent used to freshen the living room.
Standards also address areas such as descriptive analysis, sensory claim substantiation and international product testing.
Standards related to descriptive analysis are key in measuring how products differ, according to Suzanne Pecore, principal sensory scientist for General Mills Inc., Pasadena, Calif. Descriptive analysis refers to "any method to describe and quantify the sensory characteristics of stimuli by a panel of trained assessors," according to E253, Terminology Relating to Sensory Evaluation of Materials and Products.
Descriptive analysis has broad applications, according to Pecore, such as helping firms guide the formulation development of a product, understand consumer responses and monitor quality, among other topics.
Standards also address advertising claims, which increasingly include sensory components, such as "longer-lasting flavor." ASTM E1958, Guide for Sensory Claim Substantiation, covers reasonable practices for designing and implementing sensory tests that validate such claims.
And standards are critical for the expanding global marketplace, where marketing and trading activities across borders, countries and continents grow every year. Sensory research is essential to help businesses understand consumer product preferences in different countries as well as product optimization opportunities for diverse cultural populations. ASTM Manual 55-EB, International Consumer Product Testing Across Cultures and Countries, provides guidance to individuals who are conducting research in cultures and countries with which they are unfamiliar.
And then there are standards for discrimination testing, defined by ASTM E253 as "any method to determine if differences among stimuli are perceptible." Discrimination testing can impact product claims, such as E1885, Test Method for Sensory Analysis - Triangle Test. A food manufacturer intent on reducing the sodium content in cans of its tomato soup, for example, might conduct a triangle test to determine if consumers notice an appreciable difference between its original formulation and its new, healthier version.
Ennis, who is chairman of Subcommittee E18.04 on Fundamentals of Sensory, says that most large-scale organizations involved with consumer goods are interested in sensory science, whether they have a sensory science department or food scientists or psychologists or statisticians working for them, in industry or in academia.
"That's why a group like ASTM is so valuable," says Ennis, who has served on the committee for four and a half years. "You've got people coming from all different walks of life. ASTM really is the best place to get real-world education in sensory because that's where you're going to meet the people who are doing sensory in their everyday lives, regardless of their backgrounds."
"The public is interested in receiving a high quality product for as low a cost as possible. People want high quality and good value. I think the activities of ASTM help to ensure that as much as possible. The activities help consumers to find as rich a sensory experience as possible from the products they buy. Above and beyond just delighting people, the committee's involved with things like the sensory qualities of fish, which was important during the Gulf oil spill, and consumer safety and health," Ennis adds.
Joseph Herskovic, Ph.D., research fellow at ConAgra Foods, Omaha, Neb., and a 24-year member and past chairman of E18, says that ASTM standards are the gold standards for test design and execution at his firm. "In fact, almost everyone in the field uses them, certainly the major departments that have good reputations," Herskovic says. "They're consensual. They are written by the best people around. They give you an opportunity to provide input. They've been critical throughout my career as I've gone from company to company. That's been the constant: my ASTM membership and commitment to the standards."
In June, five active E18 committee members, including Ennis, Pecore and Herskovic, looked to broaden E18's outreach by presenting at the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists in Las Vegas, Nev.
IFT had invited E18 chairman-elect Donya Germain, also chairman of E18.93, Standing Committee on Communications and Training, and director of consumer research, ACCE International, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, to serve as a moderator at the conference on a topic of her choice.
She selected "ASTM: We Have a Standard for That! Best Practices in Sensory Evaluation." The ASTM members, hoping to educate the conference-goers and recruit more members for E18, addressed about 250 food scientists from the food industry and related supply companies.
Germain introduced the panel and provided an overview of ASTM and the committee.
Ennis discussed "Best Practices in Sensory Advertising Claim Substantiation," elaborating on the key elements of claim choice, wording and target.
Pecore, an ASTM member since 1986 and chairman of Subcommittee E18.01 on Terminology, discussed "Best Practices in Descriptive Analysis, including the Manual on Descriptive Analysis Testing for Sensory Evaluation, Lexicon for Sensory Evaluation: Aroma, Flavor, Texture and Appearance," and several other documents related to descriptive analysis.
Herskovic discussed "Best Practices in Discrimination Testing," including the standards for triangle, duo-trio and same-different tests. He emphasized the need to exhibit caution when using the standard methods and to consult with a qualified sensory scientist when applying the methods.
Anne Goldman, vice president of consumer research at ACCE International, and an ASTM member since 1985, discussed "Best Practices in International Consumer Product Testing" and showcased Manual E55-EB. She noted that many elements come into play in dealing with diverse cultures, including etiquette, religious beliefs, the olfactory environment and food habits. She used product translation miscues to inform - and amuse - the audience (in some parts of Africa, for instance, a prominent baby food in the United States translates to "baby in the jar").
"The lack of understanding of the culture of the end consumer inevitably leads to product failure," says Goldman, also a past chair of E18.
"The presentations were positioned to showcase typical situations to which audience members could relate in their own workplace environments and to demonstrate the application of relevant documents from Committee E18 to apply best practices," Germain says.
"If you're going to be in the sensory field - and it was the sensory and consumer sciences division of IFT that we addressed - and if you're going to do best practices, that's where ASTM E18 comes in," says Germain. The IFT audience was ideal, she says, "because these people are sensory professionals, and if anybody should be contributing to writing documents or using best practices, it's them. They are the ones who are key."
Germain hopes other ASTM committees will follow suit and market themselves to related publics. Her committee planned to do just that again in October when members were to address the Society of Sensory Professionals in Jersey City, N.J.
"Here's a way of marketing standards in a different manner," says Goldman, who notes that a half dozen people at the IFT conference expressed an interest in getting involved with ASTM International. "Go to a conference. See if you can get to the podium to talk about them."
Pecore expects the committee to grow in the future. "I'm seeing some new industries approaching us," she says, noting that E18 goes beyond food, personal care products, household products and consumer package good firms. "It's really rejuvenating the committee."Patricia Quigley is an award-winning journalist and public relations practitioner who has written for local, regional, national and international publications. She resides in southern New Jersey, where she earned a B.A. in communication and an M.A. in writing from Rowan University.