Feature: Virtual reality

How virtual reality is helping create today's beverages

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Virtual reality can be a bit of fun for consumers: offering bonus content via a 3D experience. But behind the scenes in the F&B industry, it has important roles to play in how our beverages are created and made. 

We’ve been at Brau Beviale in Germany this month to discover how virtual reality – computer generated 3D simulation of an environment - is being used.  

Natural ingredient company Döhler is using virtual reality to help clients explore how flavors will taste when consumed in a real life situation – perhaps a bar, party, or outside - rather than in a static laboratory environment.

At Brau Beviale it invited visitors to try a herb soda within the busy, bustling trade show environment; and then repeat the taste test through the virtual reality experience.

In this second tasting, a headset shows viewers a beautiful vista of the German Alps; while the headphones play the sound of birds tweeting.

“When you are on holiday and you buy a wine, then buy it home, the wine tastes different,” observes Olaf Biedekarken, head of sensory and consumer science at Döhler.

“The effect is you are now not on holiday, you are stressed. What happens to the wine? It tastes different.

“Consumer research happens in a classroom: but you’re testing a product for a party. I say: 'This is not reality'”

“Normally consumer research takes part in a classroom… but they are asked to test a product for a party… and I say: This is not reality.”

Meanwhile, packaging line specialist Gebo Cermex demonstrated how virtual reality has an important role to play in the ‘factory of the future’.

Using virtual reality, it is possible to accurately simulate daily operations in a production plant, and therefore develop and test new production models. It can also be used to train new operators.

“Virtual reality is used as a tool to develop new concepts and to verify feasibility,” explains Jean-Claude Waeldin, project manager of advanced production systems at Gebo Cermex.

What is virtual reality?

Virtual reality offers a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment, that people can interact with in a seemingly real or physical way thanks to special electronic equipment, such as a virtual reality headset.

Nescafe and Google have created a virtual reality coffee experience, which lets viewers see coffee fields in Brazil via a mobile phone app and Google viewer.

Goose Island beer is running a virtual reality experience in Tesco supermarkets to transport shoppers to where it grows its hops in the Northern Idaho Valley.

And Coca-Cola has designed secondary cardboard packaging that can be turned into smartphone virtual reality viewers.

But virtual reality could go even further than this in the future. Los Angeles-based start-up Project Nourished sees the chance to use virtual reality with food in all sorts of situations – even investigating whether it’s possible to enjoy a meal without eating a thing.

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