PLAY MR researchers get students stuck into sensory research

by: Nataly Perez

Pushing the boundaries of cutting-edge research ain’t no easy thing. Yet there is a consistent call from all corners of the industry to deliver ever more holistic, streamlined, cost-effective and agile approaches.

Recently, we presented a guest lecture on sensory research to students enrolled in Monash University’s world-class Masters of Food program. Before the experience could go to their heads, we asked PLAY lecturers Nat Baker and Emma Ditterich to talk us through their student learnings, and where they see sensory heading into the future.




Hello, Emma and Nat. You look wonderful! And you both smell great. Are we doing sensory research right now?!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg! Sensory research involves both consumer science and psychology. So yes, your immediate senses are the starting point, but as we explained to the students at Monash University, we take it a step further to determine what the senses provoke in a consumer, and what this could mean for a brand. It also involves social and environmental context which is becoming increasingly important.

PLAY MR sensory researchers


Given the nature of sensory research, it makes perfect sense (ha!) that your guest lecture with Monash was very hands-on. What kinds of activities were on the agenda?

Definitely some delicious ones. We couldn’t give a lecture on sensory research without running an aroma recognition test for starters!

We also gave the students a chance to test their new sensory chops by designing their own sensory experiment to solve a business challenge. These ranged from determining a change in tastes towards milk amongst consumers, to creating a ‘sensory map’, to finding an area of sensory opportunity for a drinks company. Getting students to think in sensory terms early on will help the industry later, encouraging emerging leaders in research to drive innovation in sensory in order to fulfil real-world requirements. 

aroma recognition test

It all sounds very practical. Is this typical of a Master of Food course?

At Monash University it is. Unlike traditional programs, the Monash Masters of Food course gives students a chance to dive head-first into a world of rapid technological and agricultural advancement. As part of the course, students are exposed to existing and new technology by trained professionals (like us!) to better understand the supply chain, trends and food marketing, better equipping them for the work force. 

Throughout the day, we reinforced this real-world training by discussing the role of sensory research in developing winning product and brand concepts, highlighting how it’s been a catalyst for success or failure in the past.

We’re hoping to see mainly sensory innovation success from these grads!

masters of food student

Was there anything the students were surprised by?

I suppose the breadth of brands and content that sensory research has touched. We had a good chat about catering to local markets and discussed Ben and Jerry’s initial failure to adapt to Japan. The first few flavours they launched were a huge flop because the Japanese preferred their ice cream smooth. These days, Japan-only versions of Ben and Jerry flavours better reflect cultural preferences and have had much greater success. It’s not a bad day when a discussion about ice cream is on the agenda.

Cordelia Seloulya, professor of chemical engineering, was equally thrilled with PLAY's contribution:


"Play MR's involvement in this course gives us an industry edge that few other Universities can match.

Emma and Nat upskilled our students in all of the pivotal sensorial attributes and requirements of tasty, innovative food in a very real, engaging, honest and relevant way which received glowing endorsement from the students post lecture. Well done to Emma and Nat.

We look forward to having Play MR continue to provide their market research expertise and insight into several other courses at Monash as the teaching of food expands."

university students

Thanks, Nat and Emma. Sounds like a great opportunity to set up our own taste-test in the office. Dessert, anyone?

For any sensory enquiries or to learn more about how our approach to innovation can help your business, please reach out! We definitely take meetings at the ice cream parlour. Get in touch on 02 8097 0200 or email at any time. 



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about the author

Nataly Perez

As PLAY’s Marketing Consultant, Nataly is a fan of using insights and creativity to truly resonate with customers. Having spent the best part of six years working in research and marketing with brands in social, travel, FMCG and government sectors, she’s a firm believer in looking left if everyone is looking right. That’s where the real gems tend to be! She lives on the Northern Beaches and is determined to become a year-round ocean swimmer and show the 'senior' swimmers that she too can brave the cold (albeit with a wetsuit).

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