Sensory Research

Sensory attributes are product properties perceived by one or more of the five senses: visual, tactile (mouth, skin, surface texture, etc.), auditory (crunch, squeak), olfaction (taste, flavour, smell) and kinaesthetic (including feelings such as cooling, burning, and tingling associated with use of a product).

Sensory research is concerned with objectively rating the sensorial attributes of a product using respondents who possess sensory acuity. These respondents can detect sensory properties and are able to describe them well. They need not be the target market for the product; their role is to provide an objective assessment of the sensorial makeup of the product; something that average consumers are not usually good at. While they are good at telling us what they like and dislike, consumers in general tend to be weak in discerning and describing sensory attributes.

Sensory research is often used in conjunction with consumers’ rating of products to provide an explanation of consumers’ preferences. For example, if consumers highly rate the smell of a product (“I really like it” or “I like it extremely”), sensory profiling explains what they like about the smell.

Sensory Profiling


Exhibit 10.1   Sensory profiling of beer brands T, C and H.

Spider charts such as the one shown in Exhibit 10.1, are often used to depict the sensory profile of products. They relate how the product is perceived on the sensory attributes that are associated with the category. The technique commonly used for sensory profiling is called Quantitative Descriptive Analysis (QDA). Listed below are the steps involved in the QDA process:

  • Build Attribute list: A sensory panel of about a dozen participants collectively try all products included in the test. Words used by the panellists to describe the sensorial constitution (i.e., visual, tactile, auditory, olfaction and kinaesthetic) of these products are recorded, and a list of descriptors of the sensory attributes is finalized.
  • Product Rating: In a blind (unbranded) test, products are rated individually by the panellists on each of the sensory attributes. The assessment is typically repeated at least once to check for consistency of the ratings. The average rating of each brand is then charted as shown in Exhibit 10.1. Using correspondence analysis or principal component analysis (PCA), the brands and their image ratings can also be vividly depicted on a multidimensional perceptual map.
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