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DAA: Mona Baker Wolf

Mona Baker Wolf

Mona Baker Wolf


Cincinnati, OH


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.”