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Julia Tyrpin - Be Resourceful

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Julia Tyrpin is the Director of Sensory Science for Griffith Foods North America. She is a seasoned sensory professional with over 30 years’ experience in the food industry; with the last 20 focused in Sensory Science. Julia has held sensory roles in CPG companies such as Wrigley and Diageo as well as on the supplier side with Product Dynamics (currently Brisan Group). Her current role at Griffith Foods includes managing sensory teams in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. that support Griffith Foods in creating seasonings, coating systems, marinades, and sauces across a variety of product categories.

Transcript (Semi-automated, forgive typos!)

John: Julia, welcome to the show.

Julia: Hi, John. Thanks. Happy to be here.

John: Yeah, that's great. So one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show, Julia, is that I think you are really like your voice is really valuable because you're someone who's actually out in the real world applying these new technologies as opposed to someone who is in maybe a more purely academic environment. So I think you have a really valuable perspective on these topics. But before we get into that, I'd like to kind of bring our listeners up to speed who aren't familiar with your background. To talk about it, how did you end up in sensory science? This is always an interesting question in our field.

Julia: Yeah, I kind of fell into sensory by accident. It wasn't an intentional choice. In college, I chose food science. I love food. It was a great blend of science which was my natural affinity and then sensory, I had worked in the food industry for a while and then sensory just an opportunity came up when I was working and I fell into it and I ended up going and taking additional courses online and I really loved sensory. And that was about 20 years ago and I've been in sensory ever since. And I really enjoy it. I think I heard you say at one point in one of your podcasts that it's applying science to our lives, the science of living. And I really love that because food is such an integral part of our life. And I love that we apply science to eating. Really?

John: Yeah. I think it's great because, what's neat about sensory is, okay, you're living your life through your senses. Right? So of course if you're interested in the experience of life and sensory is an ethical field for you. However, there's also psychology, you know, there's the food science side, I mean, the chemical senses. You've got smell. Increasingly, you've got things like sound coming into. Of course, you've got all the imagery. I mean, it's very complete discipline. So I'm completely with you. In fact, you know, just not to get totally off the topic, but you might remember a few years ago, I was the cannabis ambassador from the ASTM sensory group to the ASTM cannabis group. I don't know if you know that.

Julia: I did not.

John: Yeah, I actually attended I think it's D-37. I attended their meeting and it was a very bizarre experience to go out to dinner with people who were not sensory people because the food was delicious, but nobody was talking about it and it was the strangest experience. They were just talking about the chemical properties of cannabinoids and all this stuff. And, you know, I just thought, I miss my people. I want to be back with the sensory types so I could definitely relate. Okay, so let's talk a little bit, Julia, where were you when you first found sensory? Was that when you were at Wrigley or where were you?

Julia: And I had a little bit of sensory experience at Wrigley in my very early career. And then really I got into sensory more in Diageo. So I had an opportunity to work in sensory and support product development on beverage alcohol. So that was a really interesting experience because it's a unique product and has its own challenges in terms of sensory being alcoholic beverage. But, yeah, I really got into sensory at that point and have really focused and moved into Griffith Foods where I'm able to work on a variety of food products. It's different every day. So it's really fun. And in terms of like fitting into your everyday life, there's so many different foods that we are evaluating and it's very much about our eating experience through meal. And so it's a lot of fun to work on different products and have a really deep understanding of flavors and textures. And so, yeah, I really enjoy working across different food products where am now.

John: This is fascinating. As always kind of appealed to me is our methodologies. You can develop this kind of methodological toolbox and then you can apply the same ideas in a variety of contexts. And sometimes, you know, they're more applicable, sometimes they're less applicable. Maybe we can talk a bit about the sorts of methodologies you tend to flavor. I think that would be interesting. What are some of the tools that you use?

Julia: So at Griffith Foods, we do a lot of analytical sensory, so a lot of that is discrimination testing. We've been really using a lot of difference from control tests because our products are quite variable. So when you're testing something like a piece of fried chicken, you have so many different parts of the piece that have variability. So having the ability to have a duplicate control in your sample set is really important to understand the range of variability that exists. So that's been a really great method to use to understand if a test sample is outside of that range of variability. During covid, we've had a hard time getting a large enough exercise. So we've actually moved to more of a tetrad approach. So we're using that as a more decision making test if we can. It really depends on the product category, we try to do it as much as possible and then we're adding replicates as well so that we can get a stronger test basically.

John: Right.

Julia: So, yeah, we do a lot of discrimination testing. We also have a full descriptive panel on site. So we do descriptive analysis as well as a method that we use quite a bit to support product development. But it doesn't apply in every opportunity. It takes a lot of resources to run a descriptive test. So when it's appropriate, we'll use that as a tool. Another thing that we do a lot of is mapping so that we understand a product categories for like a project of mapping. We do that to try to get a picture of how a category compares across flavor, texture and appearance attributes. So in terms of analytical, those are the main tools that we are using.

John: Yeah, that's right. I definitely agree with the choices and I think we look at our field, one of the strengths is I think we're very good at the multivariate analysis, including the mapping techniques. Okay, so I'd like to kind of hear your thoughts, you mentioned a couple of things that I'd like to follow up on. One is on covid, so how are you all adapting? I mean, obviously, it was a huge shock to the system, especially for sensory researchers who rely on people hearing thing. And what were some of the adjustments that you had to make? Can you take us through what was that process like for you?

Julia: Sure. So early on you know in March, we're in Illinois and we went on full lockdown. So nobody was going into the office at all for about a month and a half. So we use that time really to do kind of trainings and webinars and communication with our team and sharing learnings and kind of building our core competencies. And then once we were able to get back in the office around April or May, we started doing minimal testing for really the most important project. And we have limited numbers of people that are on site. We spread people out in terms of the physical space so that people feel comfortable. We have that social distancing, so to speak. People are wearing masks at all times except for when they're tasting and then they remove the mask, taste no communication at all with the mask off. So we really try to just be aware as much as possible when we're on site tasting. Fortunately, we had already use tools for our data collection that allowed us to do remote data collection and being able to enter our data from any location. So we also are doing some take home test when the product allows. So if it's a snack type product or a sauce, something that can be taken home, we will have people come pick it up or we've even shipped product for evaluations and then do a home evaluation and then follow up with like a call, a team type call where we can have some interaction remotely. So thank goodness for technology. I can't imagine if covid would have happened, say, 5-10 years ago. It would have been a totally different way of working. I feel like sensory scientists are very resourceful. We figure out a way to get the job done. And that's really what we've done, is figure out how we can test project by project. We're looking at what makes the most sense. What's the safest approach? What's the minimum number of respondents we can have in order to feel comfortable with a decision based on the risk to the business and things like that. So it really varies, but always taking safety into consideration. That's our number one concern.

John: Yeah, definitely. I think obviously has to be. But yeah. I mean I would say a question I have for you to hear your perspective on this, because I don't know what the right answer is. I don't know if there is a right answer, but when people are doing home testing with foods that have to be cooked or potentially prepared in some way, there’s always this tension between scientifically controlled experiments and ecologically valid experiments, right? I think there's arguments on both sides, for example, everybody's microwave probably cooks food a little bit different from everybody else. So where do you fall on that striking balance between something being controlled and differences being, you know, assignable versus this extra noise that comes in from doing testing in people's houses?

Julia: Yeah, I think it really depends on what your objective is and the type of test that you're doing. So if you're doing a descriptive analysis, I think that's a very slight variability in your product is going to matter, right? Because you can have one half of an intensity point, be a significant difference. So a temperature difference is driving that it's going to make a difference. So I think that those kinds of tests are really important to do with a controlled preparation where everybody is getting the same product. I think we and we've really thought through how we can send product home for discrimination testing. Does it seem feasible? You know we’ve considered like a hot bag to send a product home that's prepared in a lab and then everybody's got a certain time window where we monitor that kind of thing. I think that would be key is to make sure you track the timing and then take temperatures to make sure that if that's a factor, everybody's evaluating within a certain temperature range. But I think it all has to be vetted out. I think we'd have to do a trial to see if it works and see if the conditions of testing are causing a difference, if we find a difference or not, or maybe your standard deviations are high, and that's telling you that there was a big range in your data, so you're not getting a difference significantly. So I think you need a trial, really. But, in terms of the hot prep, for analytical testing, we've really kept that on site. So that's all prepared and served at the same way. We do actually have multiple sessions. That's one approach, though. We're still controlling the prep up because we can't have the same number of people in the room at the same time. We'll do multiple sessions to make up for the number of people we need. In terms of consumer testing, we have actually done a little bit of that as well, where we did some kind of mobile missions, where we had people picking up products from different restaurant locations actually, and doing evaluations on mobile and their mobile phones. So I think that's more realistic in terms of gathering data because that's a real world and I think that's a credible way to collect data. I've also heard of collecting consumer data and having people prepare like a zoom call so you can observe and make sure that it's consistent. We haven't done that, but I think it is possible. It takes that extra step and I think you really have to vet out that process and make sure that you're comfortable that your range of variability is controlled.

John: That's right and you can explain the variability.

Julia: Yeah.

John: Yeah, that makes sense. So what do you see as sticking around? I mean, there's been a lot of lessons learned during the first, right? What do you see that you all will continue to do even once and we were talking before the show about, you know, our optimistic view that this crisis will be over at some point, hopefully this year, maybe not till next year, but even when we go back to where we have the option to living the way that we used to live, what do you see as carrying forward? What are the lessons that you've learned?

Julia: I don't think we'll need to go to the office every day. I think that will consolidate. For example, sensory testing, I think will consolidate to the days that we need to be onsite so that we don't all have to be there every day. I think that we've all learned to work from home and maybe we're even more efficient that way. I think that's one of the big things and travel, too. I think maybe going to conferences. I don't know if we'll go to conferences as frequently. Or even on site meetings, like team meetings, where a North American team that I lead and we have a lot of meetings and we don't need to be in person. I think we'll learn to do all that remotely. And I think consumer testing, I think we're going to learn to do a lot more in the moment type testing. I think there's opportunity and I know you and I have talked in the past about using the devices that smart speakers that can collect data in the moment. I think that's a really great opportunity to get people's feedback without having to have a large CLT's or have some creative ways of collecting data. I'm really interested in leveraging some of those tools that we're getting some data without having to be in person.

John: Right. That's interesting. To follow up on what you said about your team. I mean, this is very interesting because I definitely have seen this during the pandemic that like when people would get together physically, there were always these kind of local cultures that would emerge. Right? That you would have I don't know, the Seattle group would do something just to name cities, not necessarily cities for Griffith Foods, but Seattle group would do things one way and the Pittsburgh group would do things a different way. And then you've got the Singapore group to set things a different way, you know, and like over time when people are getting together every day, I think there's this tendency for human beings to like subtly change. Like, they kind of drift apart like accents and they eventually become dialects that eventually come many languages. Have you found that the fact that everybody's remote now has led to there being more consistency in the global group or in the North American group? I know you're managing the North American group, do you see the group also trying to work in a more similar way within the larger group?

Julia: Yeah, I do think so. And I think that there's also more. Of a desire to make sure that we're aligned and I think maybe being having the pause to be home and being working more at a desk, you have more opportunity to think through how to do that. So I think that's something that actually Griffith is it's important for us to validate all of our methodologies across locations and we have had the time to think through how we would do that and set up studies to do so. And yeah, and we've also had the opportunity to take some of our processes and automate them. And then we're able to streamline what we do, have it done in a consistent manner, and then we're able to provide that actually globally to our facility so that this is a sensory process, so that we're all doing things in the same way. And that's been, I think, something that being home more and covid is allowed us to have the time to do that rather than always running from one project to another. I think we've had time to slow down and think through how we can change things and be more efficient.

John: Right. Now, that's really interesting, so that kind of a lot to unpack there. So let's talk about standardizing your processes through automation, because I think that's very relevant. I think so many of the things that we do in sensory on day to day basis, you're talking about saying discrimination tests. You've got tetrad data or different from control. It is pretty straightforward once you have the data, you know what to do with the steps are laid out. So that's a prime opportunity for automation. So maybe be good for you to talk a little bit about how have you all, a couple of things, one is the technology piece. How have you actually implemented automation then the other is the human side, the change management. How have you gotten people to be on board with using these centralized tools? Right? Because I think there's whenever you make a change, there's always going to be a certain amount of friction or there's going to be resistance or there's going to be something. There's always going to be like if you get people to change your behavior, there's always a little something that has to happen. Right? For the most part, left alone, people keep doing what they've been doing. So maybe we can talk a little bit about the technology. But then I'd also like to hear about the change management piece and how you manage that.

Julia: So in terms of the technology, we've recently streamlined a process that was for mapping. So it allows us to use some of the existing tools that we have for data collection and import that into a dashboard that allows us to then apply statistics to the data, be able to analyze our data and then simplifies our reporting process. And so it's a very streamlined process and very consistent so that we're able to, like I mentioned before, we're able to leverage that across our different Griffith locations. So in terms of how we've gotten the buy in, it really hasn't been difficult. People have been very welcoming. They the environment at Griffith is very positive towards new technology and embracing it. And so I really haven't had a challenge with that. There's been some challenges and just I guess getting everyone up to speed and taking the time to walk through and we have experts that have been the lead on training for different locations, but everyone's been very welcoming in terms of getting it out and utilizing this tool. So really, it hasn't been an issue at all.

John: Okay, I think it's a testament to your management.

Julia: Thank you.

John: I think you actually like to do what you do. So that's good. So let's talk a little bit about what you're excited about. So you mentioned a little bit smart speakers, what are some of the technologies that you as you look around? I mean, obviously, there are a lot of startups that are offering different services. And what are some of the areas that you think are most exciting for your consumer science things that we should be either using or at least keeping our eyes on for the next two years.

Julia: So there's a lot growing in the predictive analytics area. I'm excited about that, but I'm also a little you know, I want to really understand it. I feel that we need to really have an understanding of what that means. I think it's an easy word to say in sensory, but is it really taking sound sensory and turning it into something that can be useful in terms of maybe formulating Griffith Foods being an ingredient company. We really want to make sure that we're taking the right information and the output is making sense in allowing us to use it in a meaningful way. So I think predictive analytics has potential, but I think I need to see more. It is exciting, but there's possibilities, I think that's I guess I'll leave it at that. I think there's a lot of things coming out, the eye tracking really kind of I think there's a lot of opportunity there because it's getting a response that subconsciously people are answering a question about liking, but are they putting too much thought into it? And are there other factors that are being brought into that consideration? So if we could get some sort of subconscious measurement of people's response, I think that's really interesting. As I mentioned, the smart speakers, I think that's another thing that in the moment, research is a great opportunity for getting sensory as well as consumer research in the moment. Yeah, I think those are the big things that I see coming along that are interesting.

John: Yeah, well, I'm definitely with you, I think that as far as the kind of neurobiological measurements or some of these more indirect measurements or implicit measurements, I think there's going to be a lot coming. There's already, of course, progress in that direction. But I think wearables, they're not quite there but I think within a few years, wearables will start to finally, wearables are a bit like VR and that people are talking about them for a long time. And I think they are finally starting to deliver, maybe not quite yet with wearables. But in the next few years, you will have measurements that are made fairly easily with devices that are not that expensive that have pretty good resolutions. I think that definitely be coming. Okay, actually, we are almost out of time, so we are going to need to talk. I do want to get your advice because I see you as someone that a young sensory scientist could learn a lot from. So I think it would be good if you kind of were to imagine that you, you know a fresh graduate from food science degree was to join a large company, what advice would you give that person if, you know, if it was 2021, just finished your degree, you're starting out, what would you say to yourself?

Julia: Yeah, I think I would give them the advice to try to learn as much as they can. Try to get a seat at the table and listen and learn and don't feel that they need to always have the answer, but really learn how sensory results can be applied within the business and how they can make a difference. And also, I think as part of that, be resourceful. I think, as I've mentioned before, covid has taught us that in a big way. But you don't always have to do things the way they've always been done. And there may be new approaches that don't be afraid to speak up. And if you think of a different way of doing things, and it may be a great idea.

John: I definitely agree with that and as far as you mentioned, getting a seat at the table, which I think is important, you know, I've talked about that when you're communicating the value of sensory internally, what would be your kind of, you know, someone ask you, this is a big question for sensory scientists, because so much of what we do, it's clearly is relevant at the same time can be hard to quantify the business aspect. So how would you, if you were asked someone says, okay, how do I explain to my manager, whatever the sensory is value, what would you say? What would be your recommendation for how to answer that question?

Julia: Wow, that's a big question. I think that it's always about flavor in the way things taste in a consumer's eyes. So you really need to understand that. And I think that's always a big deciding factor for food, whether consumers are going to buy, it has to tastes good. So I think sensory is critical in making sure that the objectives are being met for a consumer. So I think that making sure that we have the right tools so that we can measure that. That's really that's really where sensory comes in, is allowing us to measure responses to eating and flavor, texture, appearance and making sure that the products are aware that we would want them to be and where our customers as an ingredient company where they would want them to be.

John: Right. It's interesting. Actually, I feel like you really answer that like a food scientist in the sense that it's not always about liking, but it's always just the targets that the food needs to taste a certain way. And if it doesn't taste that way, you know, then of course, it's going to be a problem in terms of the wider business context. You know, I think marketers sometimes tend to feel like it doesn't even matter what the food tastes like. They'll be able to sell it through their fancy marketing plans or the marketing campaign. But I think it does matter. I think it's you know, yeah, we actually had some green tea ice cream recently. I have to say, it sounded on the outside, sounds like so amazing and my son and I both spit it out. He scraped it off his tongue, in fact. Okay, so now if someone wants to get in touch with you, Julia, suppose someone wants to apply for a job at Griffith Foods or they just want to reach out for some advice, what is the best way for them to contact you?

Julia: I think LinkedIn is probably the best way.

John: Okay, yeah, and I would say I would definitely recommend, I always found you very easy to talk to, I think that, you know, you would make a great mentor for anybody who might be looking for advice. And I love that about our field, that I feel like we're very supportive and you know, networking is so important. There's so much information no one can learn at all.

Julia: Completely agree and it's a great field and it's a small world, actually, you know people know each other and they are very supportive. So I completely agree with that. Yeah, I'd be happy to mentor people that are just entering the sensory world.

John: That would be great. Okay, Julia, thanks a lot. This has been great.

Julia: Thank you.

John: Okay great. Thank you. Okay, that's it. Hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you did, please help us grow our audience by telling your friend about AigoraCast and leaving us a positive review on iTunes. Thanks.


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