POST OF THE MONTH NOVEMBER 2018
A glimpse of the 2018 Society of Sensory Professionals (SSP) Conference
Meetha Nesam James, Masters Student at Kansas State University, Manhattan, United States
26th-28th September 2018 – Cleveland, Ohio, United States
‘Rock your Sensory Advantage’- this was the tagline of SSP 2018 conference held in Cleveland, Ohio, United States from September 26th to 28th. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the conference aimed at inspiring sensory professionals and students, as leaders from the industry shared their expertise on how sensory could be used to drive innovative business results.
The conference kicked off with a welcome note by Dr. Jason Newlon, SSP Conference Committee Chairperson. This was followed by the SSP/ASTM Joint Workshop on the theme: ‘It’s a Small World, Leading Sensory and Consumer Research Cross-Culturally’. This session highlighted the how to’s of global research and the benefits of working globally. Dr. Kavitha Avula from ‘Therapists Beyond Borders’ gave an amazing talk on understanding people from inside out and not from outside in. She insisted that understanding cultural sensitivity of the target consumers, avoiding implicit bias and having a heart to listen rather than imposing your thoughts would be a great way to understand consumers from different cultures. Dr. Bob Baron, VP, Sensory Spectrum, spoke about the business case for taking sensory global. He mentioned that the changing environment in the global market is due to the increase in global trade, technology development, consolidation and centralization of brands. Daniela Garaiz, Sensights Consulting, mentioned that having a structured plan around the business objective and developing the study based on that would help conduct an international research study successfully. Following that, Janet McLean, Global Director of Sensory Consumer Guidance, Diageo, took us through the challenges one has to face when conducting research globally, especially the time zone difference, shipping costs, advertising etc. At the close of the workshop session, Cindy Malixi, Innovation Consultant and Facilitator, AHHA, gave her insights on working with global teams. Her idea of ‘Go have a beer’ with global teams to have better connections and to stay cool always, were some of the key takeaways from her talk.
The ‘Luncheon with Connectors Meet-and-Greet’ was one of the main events at the conference. Everyone enjoyed the conversations with their mentors, as they shared their professional experiences and their insights for future career prospects.
The opening keynote by Kevin Ryan was thought provoking as he spoke about ‘The Changing Face of CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods)’. He drew everyone’s attention towards the ten evolving cultural mindsets that tend to influence the CPG market. One of the mindsets he discussed was ‘Foodie 2.0’ where the consumers take ownership of what they choose to buy and what they eat. Ryan also recommended on how CPGs must react to these mindsets of consumers to stay relevant.
Debbie Peterson, President, Getting to Clarity, gave a fascinating talk on the topic “Increasing Confidence in Communication: From Frustrated to Focused”. She challenged everyone to “Step up, Speak up and Show up” and mentioned that avoiding limiting beliefs, catching it, challenging it and changing it into a positive belief about one’s self can help them achieve greater heights. Following that, Dr. Jason Newlon gave a talk on the journey of the first ten years of SSP. It was inspiring to know how the vision of a small group of the founding members took form into this successful big organization. The day ended with a cocktail reception for more networking and connections.
The second day of the conference started with scientific sessions on the theme-‘Context throw- down’. The speakers presented their research on the importance of context in consumer likings in different product categories. Experiencing the products in real life environment in contrast to the test facilities had impact on the consumer preference. After the talk, selected studies in diverse topics were presented as speed posters in no more than 5 minutes.
The students and other researchers had the chance of presenting their research in the poster sessions in the morning and afternoon. I presented my research on ‘Lexicon development and napping of Ryebread from Northern Europe and the United States’. There were posters on different sensory topics including context relevance, oral processing, cross-cultural product testing, etc. There was another Professional Development talk on how to overcome difficulties and to increase clarity and assertiveness in communication. The student luncheon that followed had a presentation from Chris Van Dongen about the three phases of a career in sensory.
The afternoon started with a scientific session on the topic “Individual Differences between Consumers”. Scientists presented their research on the variation in liking because of the personality traits, oral perception and sensitivity and sensory advantage of thermal tasters. Following that were two workshops at the same time on the topics of ‘Beyond Foods’ and ‘Best Practices for Storytelling with Data’. The participants attended either one of them based on their interests. The day ended with the award ceremony and the night was enjoyed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland with a grand Gala.
The final day of the conference began with two workshops simultaneously. One was on the theme of ‘Advancing Sensory Science by integrating Perceptual, Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology’. This workshop presented research on the role of context, fast and slow thinking and how to overcome the psychological sources of error. Another SSP-Sensometrics joint workshop was conducted on ‘Designing Consumer Relevant Testing’. A team of Sensory scientists and statisticians shared both the sides of a research study from a consumer-friendly perspective. There was a session to meet and interact with the editor of the ‘Journal of Sensory Studies (JOSS)’ after the workshop. In the end, there was fireside chat where Dr. Jason Newlon and Lisa Ernst from Procter and Gamble shared their experiences on working with different product categories. Dr. Newlon closed the conference by calling everyone out to drive towards excellence with inspiration from all the sensory professionals.
Overall, the SSP Conference this year was packed with interactive scientific sessions and workshops. It also proved to be a great opportunity to connect with other sensory professionals and scientists. Personally, I got to meet and interact with Dr. Michael O’Mahony, Gail Vance Civille and Dr. Harry Lawless who are pioneer scientists in the field. Also, I had the pride to represent Kansas State University at SSP 2018 along with my team. I look forward to attending the conference again and to be more involved in the Society of Sensory Professionals.
CALL-TO-ACTION (CTA): I would like to invite you all to attend the next SSP conference in 2020 (Venue to be decided). There are a lot of volunteering opportunities available to get involved with SSP. Please contact me and I can get you plugged in the right team.
Written by Meetha Nesam James
Masters student at Kansas State University