Alumna Lauren Dooley: Making Sense
Lauren Dooley (Food Science, ’04), a sensory scientist at Impossible Foods in Redwood City, California, was first introduced to sensory analysis — a scientific discipline that analyzes and measures human response to food and other products using experimental design and statistical analysis — as an undergraduate. She was so intrigued by the process, she pursued a doctorate degree in sensory science at the University of Arkansas, later going on to work for Givaudan Flavors in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Kellogg’s in Battle Creek, Michigan, before joining Impossible Foods in 2017.
The field of sensory and perception is becoming more important as companies realize how strong the voice of the consumer is and the importance of creating products with desirable characteristics.
— Lauren Dooley
While the foundation of sensory analysis is in food, it expands to include hair products, cosmetics, household goods, automobiles, pet food and beyond, she said.
“The field of sensory and perception is becoming more important as companies realize how strong the voice of the consumer is and the importance of creating products with desirable characteristics," Dooley said. “With the fast pace of innovation, the field has had to adapt to be nimbler and more flexible with its approaches.”
Dooley’s sensory and perceptual research team at the Silicon Valley-based Impossible Foods, a company that develops plantbased substitutes for meat and dairy products and recently made headlines with its vegan Impossible Burger 2.0, studies consumer responses to taste, aroma, texture, appearance, sound and more. “We do an extensive number of tests daily using employees, trained tasters and consumers,” she said. “We test for understanding of ingredient or process changes, formula simplification, preference, liking and much more.”
While the approach of companies may differ, it is safe to assume that most consumer packaged goods have gone through some level of sensory evaluation, whether to gauge the quality, acceptability or liking of a product. Some tests can lead to subtle changes, while others are geared toward determining which direction a product will go. “When we were developing Impossible Burger 2.0, we wanted to create a superior product to Impossible Burger 1.0, so we wanted large, noticeable differences and preferences among the testing groups,” Dooley said. “Everything about the burger was improved – the appearance, texture, flavor, aroma, functionality and versatility, shelf life and processing. Every person at our company contributed to the success of this new product, and it was a huge endeavor.”
The demand for sensory scientists will continue well into the future. Cal Poly students interested in pursuing a career in sensory analysis should sharpen their skills in statistical analyses, coding and data visualizations, as the field continues to grow. “Deep product understanding of sensory characteristics is critical, and the correct technical application of sensory-designed experiments can impact a product’s success,” Dooley said. “Sensory departments have existed at large companies for decades, but now newer, smaller companies are seeing the value of investing in this area.”
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