Haystack is the first company to use VR headsets for smell and taste tests
From now on, Haystack's smell and taste tests can also be conducted using VR glasses. Haystack is using the technology to immerse test subjects in a realistic environment, without requiring respondents to move. “Context is important, especially where smell and taste tests are concerned: the odds that our testers will also enjoy the aromas in real life double”, says Haystack founder Ludovic Depoortere.
VR goggles first cropped up in the world of gaming, but are now quickly finding their way into other industries. Research shows that the virtual and augmented reality market will increase tenfold by 2020. In that field, market research company Haystack is blazing trails: it recently began using VR for smell and taste tests.
How it works? Before beer or coffee companies market a new flavour, they submit it to a taste test panel. High-end car manufacturers also put a great deal of thought into the smell in their cars, and like to have outsiders experience it ahead of the car's release. For those types of tests, many top companies call on Leuven-based Haystack, which boasts an extensive panel of professional testers.
Context determines experience
These tests usually take place in a lab, and that's why VR headsets make an enormous difference. If you look through the glasses, the screen shows you a lifelike environment that moves when you move. It enables Haystack to have the taste testers enjoy their coffee or pint in a virtual café or pub.
"What smells good in your favourite clothing store or behind the wheel of your sports car? That question is a lot easier to answer if you really believe you're in that shop or driving that car. VR headsets allow us to simulate that context in our lab." Ludovic Depoortere, Haystack founder
From brown pub tasting to al fresco sampling
To breathe life into that context, Haystack developed software that integrates with footage shot with a 360° camera. Not only does this enable the test subjects to look around in the virtual environment, the software also projects multiple choice questions onto the image. The technology registers which answer the eyes focus on.
"For a beer sampling, we conjure up a bar environment; for a new coffee blend, there's a huge difference between thinking you're at a café in the afternoon or at your kitchen table in the morning. Thanks to the software, the testers can answer the questions right away in that virtual space." Ludovic Depoortere
The software in the VR headsets also makes it really easy to register whether or not a certain type of packaging stands out in store shelves. New shopping concepts, consumer behaviour, the decision-making process upon purchase. Those are just a few examples of research which is made so much easier by VR.
"A lab taste test provides a predictive value of 30 percent. If you conduct that self-same test in a lifelike environment, that value doubles, reaching 60 percent. For the producer, that's twice the predictability. Such large-scale testing used to be time-consuming and expensive, but VR is changing all that." Ludovic Depoortere