9.12.2021 • Behind the scenes
A total of 4500 test eaters are regularly on hand when Dr. Oetker's sensory department invites them to test pizzas, cakes, puddings, or muesli. Here, it is a matter of being quick when the request arrives by email. “Quickly confirm, free up space in the calendar, and then wonder what is going to be on your plate", says one test eater with a laugh.
The plate and napkin are in neutral white, the cutlery standard: Nothing should distract from the food. The giant ovens humming quietly at precisely 220 degrees, the small lamps on the wall switch to green, and Mareike Flöthmann, Coordinator in the sensory kitchen, knows: It is time to get started. Just like every day. Muesli in the morning, pudding at lunch, cake in the afternoon, pizza in the evening. “Who wants to test pizza in the morning?” Thorsten Dresler, International Sensory Analyst, does not really ask himself that. The idea is that the maximum of 16 testers on the other side of the wall feel comfortable; eating whatever they usually feel like at that time of the day. The testers arrange their chairs, adjust the monitors and then give the signal with a button: time to start. And that does not mean: Grab a knife and fork and wolf it down. Instead, follow a detailed questionnaire so that there is a valid result at the end. Is it visually appealing, how does the cheese melt, is the pizza not salty enough, too salty, or just right?
The sterile environment in the department has a purpose: total concentration on the products.
The testers take their time answering the questions. They look closely, taste carefully, and chew slowly. They use the mouse to enter the results into the digital questionnaire, remain critical, and know that they are doing Dr. Oetker the biggest favor.
“Of course, employees could test it themselves, but that would not be the same. The products do not have to convince the employees, but rather the consumer who buys our products.”
Thorsten Dresler, International Sensory Analyst
Brennwitz knows her colleagues only too well. Some are the personification of neutrality. Others have a sensitive palate that can taste and appraise more accurately than many others. They are used when recipes change, when suppliers change when the brain says: That should taste differently. And the sense of taste determines if that really is the case. All results are incorporated into product development, accompanying market research studies, are analyzed in detail, evaluated, and ultimately a decisive factor when deciding whether what was just on the plate also makes it onto the shelves.
Finding such experts within our own ranks is not the only tricky part. “We are also constantly on the lookout for external, ‘normal’ testers, who should be mobile and live in the greater Bielefeld area,” emphasizes Thorsten Dresler. The ten-euro travel allowance is not really the decisive factor. “Rather, just the curiosity and the joy that can be had from good food,” says one test eater. She slips a last, small piece of seductively aromatic pizza into her mouth, closes her eyes and chews thoughtfully. Then awards it the top grade.