Case Study

Doskocil Food Service Reduces Product Development Time

21st Sensory Helps Firm Match Target Ham

Doskocil Food Service Co. (Hutchinson, Kan.) recently matched a ham flavor profile with assistance from 21st Sensory Inc. (Bartlesville, Okla.). The sensory analysis firm's on-target data helped Doskocil minimize costly product reformulations and reduce product development time by 30 days.

A national restaurant chain had assigned Doskocil a challenge: Match its current ham and become a qualified vendor. Doskocil needed a quick, unbiased sensory evaluation to assess its developmental ham's progress on nine flavor and texture attributes plus appearance.

The company enlisted 21st Sensory's assistance because of the firm's knowledge and experience in sensory evaluation testing methods, analytical statistical prowess, and short turnaround time.

"We presented our objectives to 21st Sensory and within five days Kathleen Rutledge, president, provided a detailed proposal which outlined testing procedures, deadlines and budget," said Don Peter, senior food technology manager, Doskocil.

"After the panel evaluated the test and target hams, 21st Sensory told us where our test product's flavor was off and by how much. Based on the company's guidelines, we were able to reformulate our ham to match the target by the second set of sensory tests," said Peter.

Testing Parameters
Doskocil requested repeated paired preference testing by 50 consumers who underwent a prescreening process so only those age 18 and older who ate ham participated. These judges rated test and target ham characteristics, including: texture, moistness, fat, ham, sweetness, saltiness, smoke flavor, overall acceptance of appearance, taste and quality.

In individual tasting booths, 55 judges tasted the two samples of cubed ham. Samples were randomly coded to mask product identity and eliminate bias. As such, judges did not know that one sample was Doskocil's test ham, the other the target ham. Judges were asked to rate each attribute using a "Just About Right" or "JAR" scale, which asks if the attribute is "just about right," "much too much," "somewhat too much," "not quite enough" or "not nearly enough." Judges were also asked which of the coded samples they preferred overall.

Doskocil's client defined a successful match as follows, if 40 to 50 percent of the judges were not able to repeat the sample preference--identify the same ham as their favorite in both tests-then Doskocil's test ham matched its target. Results of the initial testing demonstrated the judges were able to discriminate between the two hams, so there was no parity. While 31 percent of the judges did not select the same ham in both tests, 41 percent preferred the test (Doskocil) ham in both evaluations.

"Analysis of the consumer data indicated the test ham was less tender, moist and fatty than the target ham. Doskocil's ham also had slightly less ham flavor, compared with the target. On the positive side, the test ham's sweet, salt and smoke notes were near parity," said Rutledge.

Rutledge used 21st Sensory's trained descriptive flavor and texture panel to measure the differences between the target and test hams. The panel scored the flavor and texture attributes on a 0-15 (no perceived intensity to high intensity) scale.

"While consumer data can reveal that perceived differences exist in flavor and texture, these judges are not trained to qualify the differences or show the magnitude. That's where a trained sensory descriptive panel provides invaluable data to food technologists," said Rutledge. For Doskocil, the panel identified an additional flavor attribute-brown spice/clove-at two different intensities in the test and target products. They also quantified the intensity differences for each of the Doskocil-defined flavor and texture attributes.

"The panel measured the biggest differences in fatty flavor, moistness, denseness and hardness," said Rutledge. Based on the sensory descriptive panel's data, Rutledge recommended Doskocil reformulate its ham to decrease product density and increase moistness and fat intensity. Target sensory scores were set at 6 in juiciness and 4.5 in hardness.

"Rutledge used an extremely good statistical analysis system and gave results in more than one method. Her reporting was exemplary. Using the descriptive panel data provided actionable information that we could apply at the bench to reformulate the ham," Peter said.

Product Reformulation
Following 21st Sensory's recommendations, Doskocil decreased product development time by about 30 days, according to Peter. "Curing and processing ham takes six days. That's followed by a waiting period of five to seven days for full-flavor development. Using 21st Sensory data as a guideline, we were able to shave off several reformulations," he said.

Test and Match
A second phase of consumer testing was conducted to determine whether or not the reformulated ham would match the target. The two hams again underwent testing by 50 untrained judges at 21st Sensory's facilities using the same evaluation method and criteria as the earlier test. This time, the criteria for success was met; 40 percent of the judges could not repeat preference, indicating a match. At Doskocil's customer's request, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and Duncan's Multiple Range Analysis were conducted on the data. Results indicated no statistically significant difference between the test and target hams, at the 95 percent confidence level.

"This further assured us that the judges could not discriminate between the two hams. The 21st Sensory analysis was very comprehensive," Peter said. Doskocil, a division of Foodbrands America, sells meats to the food service industry under the Wilson Foodservice brand name and it also develops private label products for food service operations.

21st Sensory Inc. is an independent contract research sensory testing laboratory. Its professional staff has accumulated thousands of hours of descriptive analyses in a wide variety of food and beverage systems. Services offered by 21st Sensory include descriptive flavor, texture, aroma and appearance analysis, fast-track bench-top consensus descriptive analysis, and packaging barrier performance analysis. Other sensory testing services include preference, acceptance, difference and similarity tests using untrained consumers.

For more information on Doskocil, please write or call: Bryant Bynum, vice president of finance, Foodbrands America, 1601 NW Expressway, Ste. 1700, Oklahoma City, Okla. 73118. Tel: 405-879-4100.

For more information on 21st Sensory, please write or call: Kathleen Rutledge, president, P.O. Box 3913, Bartlesville, Okla. 74006. Tel: 913-333-1011; Fax: 918-333-7773.

By Jill Miller, G+A Communications Inc., New York, NY 10036. Tel: 212-221-2267