Getting up in the air for sensory science

When the European Sensory Network meets, our members tell each other about their latest studies. One study presented by Nancy Holthuysen from Wageningen Food & Biobased Research during the Naples meeting stuck especially in our heads.

She and her team wanted to know how to choose the meal best suitable to be served in an airplane. They dressed up as stewardesses, informed the study participants that they were flying to Tenerife, and served a variety of meals – on the ground.


Nancy Holthussen and her colleague serving airplane meals in a simulated environment.

The participants really liked “playing going on a flight”; flight magazines, engine noise, strangers on each side and little leg room included. Even after the study was over, they discussed among themselves how nice it was on Tenerife, their imagined destination.

But do these experiences resemble the real experiences of flying? For an answer, Nancy and her team went a step further and went on a real airplane trip and had the meals served to travelers going to Tenerife. How close to reality do you have to come to understand consumers' likings? Can “simulated reality” in the lab mimic the airplane reality?

It turns out that consumers showed similar meal preferences in the simulated and in the real situation, but not in a typical lab situation (Central Location Test).

The results demonstrate an important aspect of sensory science: context really matters. Nancy´s study just has been accepted for publication. We asked her to tell us about this unusual and innovative study and its results. (Link to the publication)

Take a look at our latest video, recorded at the Restaurant of the Future in Wageningen, The Netherlands.



Source: “Welcome on board”: Overall liking and just-about-right ratings of airplane meals in three different consumption contexts – laboratory, re-created airplane, and actual airplane. Nancy Holthuysen, Milou Vrijhof, René de Wijk, Stefanie Kremer Journal of Sensory Studies 2017; e12254;


Text: F. Hübener, published 6 March 2017
Photo: Wageningen Food & Biobased Research