US-based firm ScentSational Technologies presented an outline of their innovative work in the field of aroma, and highlighted recent discoveries in the role sensory perceptions play in consumer behaviour.
"Our technology is not about encapsulating flavours into food, but about putting it into the packaging," said ScentSational Technologies CEO Barry Edelstein at last week's IFT conference in Orlando, Florida.
"We are a leader in developing olfaction packaging technologies. It's about taking FDA-approved food grade flavours and adding it to plastics, which then become highly aromatic."
This innovation could prove to be a valuable marketing tool for companies. Smell is increasingly being recognised as a key factor in consumer decision-making.
"Research shows that we are 80 per cent more likely to purchase a product if we can smell it," said Edelstein. "And approximately 80 to 90 per cent of total taste experience is related to aroma."
Food makers therefore have a great opportunity to use this to connect with consumers. For example, companies can develop a signature aroma that is associated with a particular brand, or encapsulate a flavour into a polymer in order to mask off-odours.
The sense of smell is quite unique. In 2004, US scientists Richard Axel and Linda Buck won the Nobel Prize in Science for their research, which explained why aroma can make a lifetime impact on preference.
They identified parts of the nose that fire receptors when the come into contact with specific odour molecules, which then trigger memory. Indeed, smell is processed by the same part of the brain where creativity, impulses and memory are processed. This is the creative side of the brain.
"Some smells just do it for you," said Edelstein. "And when things taste good, they smell good. Most marketing sells to the senses, and smell is the strongest sense."
The tongue tastes only five taste sensations, including umami. All other tastes, says Edelstein, are the result of the sense of smell.
"When you eat and drink, you create volatile aromas. Through the nose and the back of the throat the retro-nasal canal these aromas ultimately hit the spot at the top of the nasal area.
"This area is a direct outgrowth of the brain, the olfactory bulb. This is another reason why smell is so important."
Putting attractive odours into the packaging could therefore be one of directly appealing to consumers. But it also has other benefits. For example, it opens up the possibility of developing healthier alternatives of various products.
"You could give consumers the perception of, say, a buttery taste by putting butter notes into the packaging rather than the actual product," said Edelstein. "Or you could give consumers the perception of a particular product being sweet."
It also has technical applications. Some ingredients such as basil or lemon degrade easily. Putting these aromas directly into the packaging could be one solution.
"Also, if there is going to be any migration from the packaging, then this is going to be beneficial," said Edelstein.
ScentSational, which has protected its technology with a web of patents, claims to be the only company globally to be working in this field. It recently teamed up with the UK's Aroma Company, which represents the technology in Europe.