I have been asked this question ever since I got the title and beyond. My Sensory work started while getting my BS degree, working for a professor teaching the very subject, I needed a job and she needed extra hands :). So what started out as a part time job became an obsession and finally my career.
Sensory and consumer studies work on people’s perception about products, the products i worked with were food more so cookies, crakers, some beverages and chocolate :). So as a sensory person you are required to “taste” these things and help product development to fine tune products. We also help to match competitor products and ensure product quality when the vendors are changed. There is a panel consisting of 8-20 people who are highly sensitive to flavors and are trained (for atleast 3 months) become the testing device picking out even the smallest detectable change in flavor aroma or texture.
The consumer side works with a larger group wherein the larger data points are need to make a significant change. If of 200 people surveyed only 50 pick out a difference the change to the product could be made (depending on the significance numbers) then the change is deemed not significant and the change made.
There are also large studies done to create flavor profiles of products. This helps the product developers to fine tune the products to the customer tastes or hone in on the competition’s flavor profile to get a market share in that space. Below is a small example of a flavor profile chart. These can get more complex depending on the complexity of the product itself. Vanilla for example has a extremely complex chart.
There you go! that’s all in a days work! 🙂