Getting immersive – exploring the potential of new technologies in consumer research

05 July, 2017

At June’s Sensory Day, Leatherhead Food Research’s members got to experience our new virtual reality set. With 91% of consumers questioned by Leatherhead owning at least two smart devices and 60% of consumers posting about food on social media – rising to 80% of millennials (1), Leatherhead is researching the potential of immersive and other technologies in consumer research.

We caught up with Leatherhead’s Elena Patra, Senior Consumer & Sensory Scientist, to find out more about these new technologies.

Q: Can you explain a bit more about immersive technologies?

Elena: When we speak about immersive technologies, we are referring to the use of technology to test products in the context of how they will be consumed. One of the ways this can be achieved is by using virtual reality (VR) to create realistic images, sounds and smells to replicate a real environment, such as sipping cocktails on the beach or drinking coffee in a coffee shop.

Q: Why is VR important to the food & drink industry?

Elena: We believe VR provides a great deal of potential in terms of providing context to consumers when assessing food and drink products. Virtual reality can be used in a number of different ways. For example, it can be used to examine consumer behaviour, such as evaluating consumer choice and emotions in a virtual supermarket; to validate concepts such as new packaging and prototypes; to evaluate different contexts in order to segment or differentiate products; and to research cross-modal interactions such as flavour and environment, texture and aroma.

Q: Why is Leatherhead investigating virtual reality?

Elena: The digital era has revolutionised the way we behave, communicate and interact with each other. Social media has become an integral part of our lives, whether you’re a millennial using Snapchat to talk with friends or a grandparent using Facebook, FaceTime or Skype to stay in touch with family on the other side of the world.

With 91% of the people we questioned via Leatherhead’s consumer database owning at least two smart devices, and 20 billion internet-connected devices across the world (2), the availability and reach to one another opens up a wealth of opportunities to explore consumer data and obtain insights. We believe that virtual reality can add an extra dimension to traditional consumer testing, helping us to understand people’s behaviours, their emotional disposition and the mechanics of choice when deciding between products.

Q: Are there any other ways of capturing consumer data in context?

Elena: With so many consumers owning several smart devices, as well as being happy to use apps to participate in remote research, there is great potential for companies to collect data via surveys on smartphones or tablets. For example, a coffee shop may wish to try out a new variety of a drink and could provide the drink for free in exchange for on-the-spot feedback from the customer via their smartphone. Of course, companies could do this research themselves, but the value of using a company like Leatherhead Food Research means that they can tap into our expertise in developing and analysing consumer & market research programmes, as well as our technical & scientific expertise in helping implement the findings.

We have been undertaking online testing, both in the home and on the go, for a number of years now and have built up considerable expertise in this area. We run trials nationwide, ranging from consumers trying out new meal kits in their homes, to commuters eating new breakfast products during their train journeys to work. We also undertake a high volume of at-home household & beauty testing including room fragrances, shampoos and body washes.

New technologies really are opening up a world of possibility in terms of capturing consumer data in context.

Q: What are some of the things that companies need to consider if they want to undertake a consumer study using new technologies?

Elena: Whilst using virtual reality and apps to undertake consumer testing is in its infancy, the industry is developing methodologies for using them in consumer testing. Nonetheless they provide endless opportunities for enhancing traditional quantitative and qualitative consumer research, creating bespoke testing environments in which to evaluate prototypes and create more personalised products. Key to getting the most out of the research will be an in-depth understanding of consumers plus sensory expertise, both of which are essential in designing trials and evaluating the results. Also key will be the technical skills to develop the context and the software, as well as ongoing support.

Please do get in touch via the form below if you’d like to speak with Elena and learn more about our work in immersive technologies.

Woman wearing VR headset, being helped by second woman.

Elena Patra (right) demonstrates Leatherhead's new virtual reality set at Sensory Day

Elena Patra is a Senior Consumer & Sensory Scientist within the Consumer, Sensory & Market Insight department at Leatherhead Food Research. Her role involves client communication, project management, data analysis and reporting. After completing her BSc studies in Nutrition and Food Science in Greece, Elena obtained an MSc in Sensory Science from Wageningen University (Netherlands). Following her studies, she worked in PepsiCo’s Sensory & Consumer Insights department (Hamburg R&D Centre) prior to joining Leatherhead Food Research.

(1) Leatherhead Food Research Consumer Database June 2017: n=1495

(2) IHS Markit (2017) New Report from IHS Markit Names Top Four Trends Driving the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2017 and Beyond. Accessed online:


Complete the form below or contact us on +44 (0)1372 376761 if you’d like to have a chat with Elena:

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