Organoleptics: Designing Sustainable Packaging That Doesn't Stink

Can the smell and taste of packaging improve a product’s connection with consumers? How the science of sensory testing is enhancing the red-hot sustainable packaging market to make it more effective and more palatable to the consumer psyche.

Fanny Turlure, Global Product Manager

June 8, 2023

6 Min Read
JackF / iStock via Getty Images Plus

In today’s packaging ecosystem, the consumer sensory experience has become an increasingly important consideration, particularly as new packaging technologies are implemented to address trends around sustainability. The science of organoleptics — the evaluation of sensory attributes, specifically in the context of taste and smell — is giving today’s manufacturers new insights into how they can heighten the consumer acceptability of their products.

Organoleptic testing is an integral part of new product development and packaging research and development (R&D) processes. Manufacturers need to guarantee that their newly developed packaging material preserves original flavors and that the taste profile of the product does not change over time — or does not transfer properties from the packaging to the goods inside. For example, if a consumer experiences a strong plastic smell when opening a product, they will most likely associate the odor to chemicals in the food itself, making them less likely to purchase a product from that brand again.

So why is there a new focus on this testing as it pertains to packaging? Interestingly, the answer has a lot to do with the increased emphasis on sustainable packaging materials, both on the part of companies and their consumers.

Sustainability goals as part of the corporate social responsibility policies are becoming a higher priority, as more organizations are focused on the reduction of waste, improving their carbon footprint, and increasing their participation in the circular economy.

Consumers across the globe are also more interested in the sustainability practices of the companies they are buying from. In the United States, “Thirty-four percent (34%) of online adults are strongly influenced by companies that engage in limiting waste, and 26% are strongly influenced by those that actively support environmental and climate change policies,” according to a 2022 Forrester report. Additionally, as Gen Z enters the workforce and continues to gain higher buying power, organizations must take their motivations and buying decisions into account. According to the 2022 First Insight report, 75% of Gen Z consumers state that sustainability is more important to them than brand name when making purchases.

Today, there are innovative technologies that can help manufacturers achieve their sustainability goals. New chemical and biochemical processes, such as recycled content and the design of biodegradable polymers, make it possible to manufacture sustainable packaging from novel materials such as waste materials (such as, upcycling of wheat to produce biodegradable plastic). For example, Carbios, a French biochemistry company, designs enzymes and processes that enable the biodegradation of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) so the plastic can be reincorporated into plastics packaging.

To achieve their sustainability goals, many manufacturers are focused on three primary avenues for sustainable packaging: monomaterials, recycled plastics, and paper-based packaging.

Monomaterials use one type of plastic molecule rather than several for easier recyclability. But they need to be designed and processed in a way that conveys the same high-barrier properties as multi-materials plastics.

Traditionally, a key drawback of recycled plastics is the carryover of odors from products that were enclosed in the packaging before it got recycled.

And paper-based packaging tends to be associated with a shorter shelf life. There are many options available. However, compatibility testing is always advised to best understand which processes/materials are best suited for a particular application.


Olfaction testing enters the digital age.

There are many new and novel technologies that can help manufacturers test more sustainable packaging practices. One emerging technology, digital olfaction, mimics the way our brains identify and differentiate between odors and can help ensure that sustainable solutions for packaging are in line with the current standard.

Digital olfaction can help manufacturers integrate more environmentally friendly materials into their packaging formulas by testing to ensure that the packaging material is olfactively inert (that is, organoleptically neutral) and does not impart any unwanted odor/taste to the product it contains.

Digital olfaction technology also provides objective olfactive data over time, meaning that it can be used to evaluate the shelf life of new formulas compared to previous standard packaging. By using digital olfaction tools, manufacturers can ensure that new innovative materials are at least as good as traditional materials on the criteria assessed.

Digital olfaction can additionally help screen new plastic-alternative material formulas in an automated, efficient way. As manufacturers test and roll out new sustainable packaging, digital olfaction can help predict which formulations will be in line with the current standard at a lower cost by reducing the number of formulas that need to be screened.

What’s more, this technology can extend beyond the R&D phase of packaging development and support the entire supply chain. By gathering large amounts of data from different plastics (and those made from many different combinations of plastics), digital olfaction technology can provide an objective measurement of packing materials before they are even in contact with the product.

Standardization and regulation are important when creating new sustainable packaging and materials. The amount of data that digital olfaction can collect helps manufacturers in the supply chain categorize different packing materials or suppliers during initial testing and quickly assigns new material formulas to standardized categories (compliant/non-compliant/borderline).

At Aryballe, we have tested plastics with recycled content in the context of automotive materials. Using our silicon photonics-based instrument, manufacturers can examine different formulations with recycled content and more easily compare them to the original to develop the right mix of new and recycled materials to meet the olfactive requirements of the industry. Our software suite additionally provides easy-to-use protocol and analysis tools that enable users in R&D, quality, and manufacturing to integrate digital odor data into their decision-making process, ensuring their packaging makes an ideal first — and lasting — impression.

Aryballe’s most recent introduction is a new cloud-based software, the Digital Olfaction Hub, that enables faster, simpler odor analysis. This solution expands our previous software with advanced collaboration tools, dynamic data selection, and access to information on chemical and odor spaces.

“With the introduction of the Digital Olfaction Hub, we’re enabling our customers to manipulate their digital odor data to better understand their use cases and make better decisions,” says Kirill Arkhipov, global product manager for software at Aryballe. “We’re very excited to bring these tools to our customers and help them truly unlock the power of their odor data for their teams.”

The introduction of this new software solution comes as Aryballe continues to establish new use cases in industries from flavor and fragrance to automotive and from consumer packaged goods to healthcare. In 2022, Aryballe hosted the first Digital Olfaction Summit where leaders across industries discussed the role of olfaction in digital transformation.

About the Author(s)

Fanny Turlure

Global Product Manager, Aryballe

As Global Product Manager at Aryballe, Fanny Turlure, PhD, guides the efforts of the company’s devices team for development of new hardware and software products, and improvement of existing products based on customer feedback and market needs. Prior to her role at Aryballe, Turlure worked in the bioscience field — in both Europe and the US — and holds a PhD from Imperial College London in Cell and Molecular Biology. You can read more from Turlure on Aryballe’s blog.

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