Smell: the new ally of packaging



Sensory study of the effect of an aroma-releasing package on a packaged cosmetic product and a microwaveable food.


Carmen Toledo y Nuria Herranz, ITENE


The search for differentiation of their products or services from the competition has been a constant in companies for decades. Considering that, according to Nielsen (2020), an average of 120 references are launched daily in the European mass market, the need for differentiation is even more evident. To achieve this, differentiation must meet three basic criteria: be valued by consumers; be specific and easy to communicate; and be perceived as unique in the market.


In this way, differentiation involves satisfying market demands by describing and offering products, services or experiences in order to change the way they have traditionally been seen, bought and used by users. Following this line, one of the current market trends is to differentiate oneself by trying to improve the consumption experience of products or services by establishing an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer.


Sensorial marketing is one of the most widely used methods for this purpose, as its aim is to make customers fall in love and hook them through their senses by creating experiences that invite them to smell, see, taste, feel, listen and, in short, "move". Within this area, olfactory marketing is committed to the introduction of aromas to influence consumer behaviour and generate a specific effect, such as a positive memory of the brand, creating a shopping experience with a differential value. This type of marketing is mostly used at the point of sale, relating the fragrance to the establishments themselves and the product brands.

Companies all over the world are aware of the potential of this tool. In the European market, companies such as The Aroma Company, in the United Kingdom, or Finscent, in Finland, are dedicated to enhancing the olfactory experience to improve the differentiating character of brands. This new trend has gradually made its way to the national level with companies such as Ambifresh, Marketing Olfativo® or Aromas Fenpal. The North American company ScentSational Technologies has gone even further by developing a coating technology (EncapScent) that allows the release of microencapsulated aromas in food and beverages through the packaging, thus improving the product and the consumer's overall shopping experience.

Considering that the packaging is the first contact between product and consumer and that it is the element that subsequently interacts with the consumer during the use of the product, it is not surprising that new features are sought that give added value to the shopping experience. Furthermore, in Spain alone, the packaging industry achieved a turnover of 18,774 million euros in 2018, according to Alimarket Envase, thus closing the sixth consecutive year in positive rates and representing, with 5.5%, the highest annual increase in that period. This makes it an important sector in which to apply new sensorial marketing tools.

An example of innovation in this field is that carried out by the fruit and vegetable company Patatas Hijolusa, which launched in 2019, under its 'Babypat' brand, a line of fresh microwaveable potatoes that incorporates homemade butter in different flavours. The main innovation lies in the packaging developed by the company Schur. The 'Schur® Star Zip-Pop' bag allows the product to be cooked in the microwave by opening the bag at the centre and mixing the potato with the dressing, which occupies a different chamber, guaranteeing the shelf life of each of the components during marketing and releasing the corresponding aromas at the right time. This allows the consumer, without the need to add any ingredients, to enjoy the process of cooking the potato with its favourite dressing and predisposes it to the flavours that will be found when the product is consumed.

For Patatas Hijolusa, this innovation introduces added value to its offer, which responds to the growing demand for new products that fit in with healthier and more convenient consumer habits and lifestyles. In terms of consumption data, one market in the food sector that is susceptible to the application of olfactory marketing tools is that of pre-prepared and pre-cooked convenience products, as it continues to grow significantly. According to data from the consultancy firm IRI, in 2019 the growth of the fresh-cut and pre-cooked convenience food range was 3.87% in volume compared to 2018, with 107,968 tonnes sold, while their value increased by 4.90% to almost 712 million euros (Alimarket, 2020).


The ACTIAROMA project

But packaging in the food sector is not the only one susceptible to the introduction of flavourings as a sensory marketing tool. According to Stanpa (National Association of Perfumery and Cosmetics), the cosmetics sector in Spain obtained a market value of 8,200 million euros with a growth of 2.6% in 2019, compared to the previous year. Per capita consumption is 170 euros/year, which places Spanish consumers above the European average of 140 euros/year.

Products in the skin care category are the most consumed by Spaniards, with a growth of 5.1% and 2.6 billion euros in 2019. In addition, consumers are demanding increasingly innovative, effective and sustainable products, which requires a continuous improvement attitude. The cosmetic sector in Spain has reformulated one out of every three products in the last two years and invests several tenths of a percent more in R&D than the European average, exceeding 300 million euros per year, making the Spanish cosmetic sector highly competitive and dynamic.

Knowing the opportunities offered by the introduction of olfactory marketing in packaging systems, ITENE completed in 2019 the ACTIAROMA project, funded by the Valencian Institute of Business Competitiveness (IVACE) of the Valencian Government, through ERDF funds. The aim of the project was to develop packaging materials with controlled release systems of volatile aromatic compounds for snacks, pre-prepared and pre-cooked foods and other non-food products (perfumes and cosmetics, footwear, etc.), aimed at improving the consumer's sensory experience.

During the development of the ACTIAROMA project, different encapsulation techniques were studied and the most appropriate encapsulating agents were selected (cyclodextrins, maltodextrins, lactose, phospholipids, gels, gum arabic, synthetic polymers, etc.) for each active agent, as well as for each of the applications considered, taking into account the products selected and their useful life. Similarly, the possible release activation mechanisms were evaluated for the selected volatile compounds, according to different criteria such as temperature, diffusion time, pH, atmosphere, etc., and considering their physicochemical characteristics, with a view to achieving a delayed release of the volatile compounds.


In the final phase of the project, the acceptance of two packaged products from both the food and non-food sectors was assessed. This evaluation was carried out by means of sensory tests with potential consumers, and at the same time was supported by chromatographic techniques which allowed the effectiveness of the packaging developed to be validated.

As a food product, work was carried out with potatoes for microwave cooking based on an evaluation of market data for pre-prepared and pre-cooked products and an analysis of a representative sample of products in large supermarkets, carried out previously during the development of the project. The product met criteria such as being microwaveable, healthy and versatile for the introduction of flavourings. Of all the aromas considered for introduction, herbal aromatic compounds were finally chosen (oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc.). To package the product, films were developed with the aroma incorporated by means of microcapsules at different concentrations (Picture 1). The chosen encapsulating agent allowed the aroma to be released during cooking when the product came into contact with water vapour.




As a non-food product, we worked with a cosmetic product, based on consumption data and the fact that the lines of development of cosmetics have great potential and their production margins allow us to assume innovations of this nature. A generalist moisturising cream was selected which did not provide fragrance in the development of the technology so as not to interfere with the perception of the introduced odour. For the development of the film, the aromatic compound was incorporated by means of a carrier that allowed it to be released slowly as the storage time progressed. Jars were filled with the moisturiser and the films were incorporated into the inner side of the jar lid (Picture 2).





In both cases, unscented control films were used and films with unscented aromas were developed to allow comparison and testing of the effect of aroma encapsulation and to establish whether there were differences between the various types of film. Sensory evaluations and chromatographic analyses were carried out at different storage times, considering the shelf life of both products, to evaluate the effect of time on odour retention and release, as well as on identification and consumer acceptability.

A group of panelists were asked: (1) whether they were able to perceive any odour other than that expected from the products tested (cooked potato control and unscented cream); (2) whether they were able to identify the odours perceived; (3) to assess the intensity of the odour perceived and its acceptability, using hedonic scales from 1 to 9.

According to the data obtained, it can be stated that the development of aromatic films and their subsequent application in food and non-food products is feasible within the studied shelf life (15 days in refrigeration for microwavable potatoes and 64 days at room temperature for the moisturizer), since the release of the aroma occurs and is perceptible by the consumer.


The results obtained for the microwavable potatoes showed that, in general, the members of the panel of assessors identified different odours to those of the cooked potato during the cooking of the product and the subsequent opening of the microwave and the packaging for each of the samples with aromatic film and for each of the storage times tested (days 3, 10 and 15 of storage in refrigeration). It was noted that the higher the concentration of aroma in the film, the greater the ability of the panelists to identify the smell of herbs and spices. It was also found that in films with aromatic microcapsules, the smell of herbs was only perceived once the product had been cooked.

Samples with non-encapsulated aromatic compounds had a higher odour intensity, but were less acceptable compared to materials with encapsulated aromatic compounds. The latter generally showed similar intensity and acceptability values despite a different percentage of microcapsules (Picture 3). The results of the chromatographic analysis showed that the encapsulation allowed a greater stability in the content of aromatic compounds as the storage time advanced.



With regard to the moisturiser, the results showed that, in general, the panelists were able to identify odours when opening the container with the aromatic films incorporated in the different storage times tested (days 7, 21, 42 and 64 of storage at room temperature). The odour was detected until the last day of the test (day 64), although the intensity perceived in both samples slowly decreased as the storage time progressed (Picture 4).



The acceptability values for the samples with non-encapsulated aromatic compounds decreased as the storage period progressed, while for the samples with aromatic compounds introduced by means of a carrier in the film they increased (Picture 5). This was related to higher odour intensity values for the latter samples. According to the results of the chromatographic analysis, the use of a carrier allows a higher retention of aromatic compounds during the processing of the film and, therefore, during its later use.



The results of the study were promising, since, according to the data obtained, it can be said that the development of these aromatic films and their subsequent application in food and non-food products is feasible within the studied shelf life, since the release of the aroma occurs and is perceptible by the consumer. Different aromatic films were developed with different systems of retention and release of aromatic compounds in the package, adapting their use according to the type of product they were to contain.

Thus, the ACTIAROMA project, developed by ITENE and funded by IVACE, allowed the development of knowledge and applications in the area of coatings and encapsulation of volatile compounds for packaging systems. It also served to lay the foundations for future packaging developments in the field of sensory marketing and brand and product differentiation, innovations that can help companies, both in the food and non-food sectors, to boost their development and commercial visibility.




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