“Understanding perception and behaviour of consumers around the world”

TiFN doctoral student Roelien van Bommel defended her thesis last September, and has been working as a Sensory Specialist at Nestlé, in Singen, Germany, since the beginning of July 2020. “My collaboration with industry partners, during my PhD, certainly helped me get this job.”

Smooth bite for all
Van Bommel began her PhD at TiFN where she investigated, as part of the Smooth bite for all project, the measurement of dynamic changes in food-evoked emotions, and the sensory and hedonic perceptions of consumers. “We have refined and extended the Temporal Dominance of Sensations method that measures sensory perceptions over time”, she explains. “In my thesis we used this method to look at how consumers performed and if we could extend it to measuring the dynamics of food-evoked emotions.”

One of the conclusions drawn from her work was that sensory and hedonic perceptions change between first and last bite. Multiple bites provide additional information about a consumer’s perception of food products, which cannot be captured by single-bite assessments alone. However, food-evoked emotions did not change from first to last bite and did not provide additional information beyond liking.

“This implies we should not rely on single-bite assessments alone. Sensory perceptions change from first to last bite, and the last bite might provide important information that could lead to accepting or rejecting a food product”, the former PhD fellow stresses. “Think, for example, of products with a strong aftertaste or taste that build up over multiple bites, such as artificial sweeteners. They might linger and could lead to product rejection upon increased number of bites or sips. Identifying this process could help improve products.”

Solving sensory issues
Van Bommel’s new job as a sensory specialist closely resembles the work she did during her PhD, but with more people to collaborate with and even more research tools. “I am solving all kinds of sensory issues for project managers in our organisation, designing consumer studies and combining consumer data with descriptive information provided by trained sensory panels, providing better guidance to product improvements.”

Valuable experience
The main difference is that, as a sensory specialist, Van Bommel no longer has to carry out the studies she designs. “But the experience I gained during my PhD is very useful in developing guidelines and protocols for the colleagues who are performing the studies,” she stresses. The situation allows Van Bommel to be involved in several projects at the same time, to prepare internal reports and explain how the outcomes might impact daily company practice. Again her PhD has proven to be valuable. “I have learned to think carefully about the application of my research, especially when collaborating with multinationals like FrieslandCampina, Unilever and FromageBel.”

Consumer behaviours around the world
In the longer term Van Bommel would like to travel even more with her career. “So that I better learn how to measure, and predict, the perceptions and behaviours of consumers all around the world.”