Everyone Thinks Taste Is Subjective. Here’s Why It Isn’t.

How many times have you heard someone say, “everybody has different taste”? The adage is certainly a common one. However, when it comes to food, the saying’s underlying assumption, that taste is synonymous with preference, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

First off, let’s acknowledge that taste is really important. It’s important because consumers wouldn’t keep buying your product if it didn’t taste good. The research supports this commonsense conclusion. One recent study found that taste, smell, and texture are the top three most important factors shoppers think about when purchasing seafood. On a more general scale, a separate survey revealed that, for the last decade, taste has consistently ranked as the most important factor consumers consider when buying and eating food.

So, your products should taste good. But how do food and beverage brands go about measuring the experience of consuming their product, including taste, to begin with?

The experience of consuming a food or beverage can be broken down into appearance, aroma, flavor, texture, and its levels of the five basic tastes (sweet, bitter, sour, savory, and umami). These various components of the eating and drinking experience can be measured through identifying the specific sensations of consuming a product (e.g., garlic aroma) and the perceived intensity of that sensation (e.g., from weak to strong). Gather together a descriptive panel to identify and define your product’s sensations, and measure those sensations, and you’ve got some very specific sensory data you’re working with.

Janet Williams, who has over 25 years of CPG brand research experience, explains what a highly-trained descriptive panel’s discussion looks like at third-party research company ChefsBest: “During the language development process we expose the panel to products to enhance exposure to the category, generate terms to describe the sensory characteristics, and increase sensitivity to differences. We define the terms and identify anchors for the specific scales. For example, the panel used ‘lactic tang’ as a term on a cheese scorecard. The anchor for low lactic tang was represented by mozzarella and cream cheese while high lactic tang was anchored with parmesan and aged cheddar.”

Once the panel has clearly defined the terms and scales they’re using, they can rate the perceived intensity of each sensation, referred to as sensory attributes.

Williams expounds, “. . . there are different triggers that make us say, ‘Oh I love this and I want more of it’ or ‘I hate this and I want less of it.’ But what we do in the sensory world is try to understand perceptions, give them a name, and measure them. . . . Using fully understood language by the panel, we can measure each perception.”

In sum, descriptive panels can provide useful sensory data on food and beverage products. Food and beverage brands can use that information to quantify and understand the sensations that come with consuming their product.