Sensory and Consumer Research: Separate or Synonymous? – Darla Hall

Recently, at the Fall ASTM meeting of E18 Committee for Sensory Evaluation in Tampa, FL there were several discussions among sensory practitioners about concern for the use of both Sensory and Consumer Research as separate terms to describe our scientific discipline. On one hand, sensory science has always incorporated both analytical and consumer methods, so when did we begin to feel the need to clarify that our discipline includes a focus on consumer research? On the other hand, there are those outside of our discipline, users of sensory information and insights, who do not understand the full range of tools and value that sensory science is capable of bringing to the table. So how do we best communicate and market our discipline to allow it to serve its highest purpose?

The classic definition for sensory evaluation is a scientific method used to evoke, measure, analyze, and interpret those responses to products as perceived through the senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing (Stone and Sidel, 1993). This definition encompasses both analytical methods, such as descriptive and discriminative testing and hedonic methods, including all qualitative and quantitative consumer testing used to address sensory research objectives. Certainly, David Peryam’s pioneering work in the 1950s with the U.S. Armed Forces to develop a scale to measure food preferences by humans, now widely known as the nine-point liking scale, is a reminder that consumer sensory method development has a parallel history to analytical sensory method development. The use of consumer methods in sensory research has absolutely grown, evolved and expanded from these early inquiries into a scientific discipline with more standardized methods and approaches, but have we outgrown our original name?

I receive countless email invitations to courses, conferences and seminars across the globe that treat sensory research and consumer research as separate topics. Recently, one of our U.S. professional organizations, the Institute of Food Technologists Sensory Evaluation Division, changed the division name to Sensory and Consumer Sciences Division (SCSD). Does this re-labeling serve to support the message that our discipline is multidimensional or communicate that sensory and consumer sciences are similar, but distinct?

I embrace whatever terminology helps us, as sensory science practitioners, to fully explain the value, breadth, and depth our discipline brings to researching, developing, and marketing successful products.

But, is describing sensory and consumer research as separate entities our best strategy? Would we be more effective to market sensory science as a broader discipline that utilizes a broad set of analytical and consumer tools in an integrated approach to address the specific functional and sensory aspects of products as they relate to consumer liking, preference, and satisfaction?

Let’s begin a global dialogue to develop a uniform strategy and terminology to market Sensory Science and to increase understanding of the tremendous value our discipline offers to the research and development world and the connecting bridge we provide to marketing and market research.

Darla Hall, Co-Founder
Research Vibe

  1. Mona says:

    Nice job Darla. I agree with you thoughts.

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