Maybe you’ve always dreamed of being New York Magazine’s restaurant critic, but Adam Platt ain’t giving up his goblet anytime soon; so how can you get paid for eating and sitting around talking about it? MMR Research, a food and beverage market-research firm, is looking for part-time food tasters to participate in a panel that helps major brands hone their products. That’s right, you can help invent the next Reese's Minis! Valerie Mialon, the firm’s “Sensory Director” (now that’s a title!), tells us you don’t necessarily have to be Robert Parker to qualify — just someone who’s really in tune with your senses. “We train them to move from being more of a naïve consumer with subjective opinions to become analytical about what they perceive.”
But getting this gig won’t be easy — Mialon already has 400 applications in hand, and only plans to recruit ten tasters. First, you’ll be subjected to “taste and odor recognition” tests to see whether you can identify differences in the sugar, salt, and caffeine levels of certain products. “We give them things of different complexness to see how they can describe them. We want people who are above average in terms of their perception levels but who can also be articulate about what they perceive.”
If you’re hired, you’ll be taught the lexicon of “sensory descriptive analysis.” You’ll use a computer program to rate a given food’s properties, creating a “sensory profile.” Says Mialon, “This gives you a full description of the product experience but it’s also quantified so that you can compare different products and prototypes, so we can capture the differences and understand why people like different things. That way, clients can have a clear strategy of what they can launch.”
So how have companies tailored their products based on MMR’s research? “In the case of coffee,” says Mialon, “a lot of companies will have something really strong and bitter and something much smoother and lighter.” Same with chocolate. Mialon has found that people like these tastes for different reasons. “Maybe something strong and bitter evokes authenticity and naturalness. With people that like milky, creamy chocolate, it’s going to be much more about the indulgence and the comfort.”
Has MMR’s research found differences in preferences among genders and ethnicities? “Demographics and social background have very little effect on people’s preferences,” says Mialon. “People have different preferences, but only occasionally does it have to do with whether they’re girls or boys — for instance, in the case of alcohol, women tend to prefer something sweeter. But it’s very rare.”
So there you have it. If you think you have what it takes to do this for two or three hours a day, two or three days a week, for at least a year, ask for an application via firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!