Ann Colonna has her finger on the pulse of consumers’ food preferences. When companies or entrepreneurs develop a new food product, or tweak an existing one, and want to know what the public thinks, they contact Colonna. She taps into her database of more than 18,000 people and carefully selects individuals to taste the product and share their opinions.
For focus groups, Colonna assembles paid volunteers in a camera-equipped conference room to answer questions about the food they’re testing while company representatives listen behind a one-way mirror. “It’s not easy listening to someone rail into your product,” Colonna said.
For sensory tests, each participant sits in one of 10 booths as an assistant slides a food sample through a small window. The tasters chew, swirl, swallow, and ponder. Is it sweet enough? Too spicy? What about the texture? Too crunchy?
Colonna’s team has tested Italian sodas, yogurt, energy bars, sardines, baby food, and wine. They’ve also evaluated peaches, chocolate truffles, and raw-milk cheese. All told, Colonna’s tasters have scrutinized more than 250 products since she started at the center in 2002.