So you think there’s a huge market just
waiting for a blue hot dog? Mona Baker
Wolf can tell you exactly how consumers
will respond—not just to your idea but
also to your hot dog’s shade of blue, taste,
smell, and texture.
Sensory science, a subset of food
science, is the process of eliciting and
measuring a human response as it relates
to the five senses. For 21 years, the
Cincinnati-based Wolf Group has provided
sensory evaluation for concept testing,
consumer preference, product
improvement, and quality control.
Wolf, a native of Bedford, Indiana, turned
setback to opportunity in 1988 following a
layoff. With three children under age three
foremost in her planning, she launched
The Wolf Group from her basement.
Today her company’s 17,000-squarefoot
facility includes rooms for both
American- and European-style focus groups,
35 sensory evaluation stations, six identical
full bathrooms, three commercial and
consumer kitchens, and an exercise room.
Her clients range from mom-and-pop
operations to Fortune 50 firms. Wolf and
her 85 employees—including food
scientists, marketing researchers, taste
testers, and sensory experts—have studied
everything from chili to cellulite cream and
razors to fabric softener. Highly trained
descriptive panelists quantify minute
attributes that allow the company to develop
a statistical model of an ideal product.
Sensory science can reduce product
development time, save costs, and predict
new product success. Understanding
business models has been critical to the
company’s growth, Wolf says: “What we
offer must be value-added to a company.”
The Wolf Group also works with clients
to ensure the accuracy of advertising
claims. Wolf has served as an expert
witness for legal issues related to sensory
claims, usually to evaluate the protocols
that were done to substantiate them.
Frequent business travel gives Wolf time
to read, and she also loves playing the
piano. She is active in church activities and
supports the Eve Center, a faith-based peer
counseling organization. Wolf and her
husband Tim have four children ages 25,
23 (twins), and 19.
“I think of Purdue as my watershed, where I found
out who I was as an individual. I met some great
people and had some tremendous professors.
Purdue allowed me to invent myself—to create a
self-sufficient person with marketable skills.”