Investigating consumers’ eating habits

New methods of data collection and analysis are giving the food industry a better insight into what consumers want. This could help more new products to survive in the marketplace.

Hilde Kraggerud (centre), Tormod Næs and PhD student Elena Menichelli are developing a program that will make it possible to collect a great deal of data on what consumers want from just one survey . This will make the industry’s product development and marketing more likely to succeed.

New methods of data collection and analysis are giving the food industry a better insight into what consumers want. This could help more new products to survive in the marketplace.

There is methodology for product development and for marketing. The recently developed ConsumerCheck brings them together, allowing interaction between sensory perception, product development and knowledge of consumers. With a data model this complex, knowledge of consumers and product development can go hand in hand.

It’s about the efficient processing of a great deal of data simultaneously. And about presenting the data in a way that is understandable for both the marketing people and the product developers in a company. The researchers who are developing the program are putting a great deal of emphasis on the visualisation of results.

More precise testing

Everything we buy is based on knowledge of consumers. Tine carries out many consumer surveys during the course of the year, but would still like to know more about consumer acceptance of products before they appear on the market.

“We always test our products on consumers before we launch them. The usual procedure is to create a prototype, test it on consumers, make any necessary changes and then launch the product. In an ideal world, we would test the product several times before launching it. Then we would be more certain that the products would succeed in the marketplace,” says Hilde Kraggerud of Tine, the project manager for ConsumerCheck.

Cost effective

Many factors affect repeat buying, including design, the type of packaging, the size of the pack, labelling and location in the store. ConsumerCheck gives the food industry the opportunity to gather information about what consumers want in all these areas at the same time, in the same model.

“With the methods being developed in ConsumerCheck, we can find out more about the consumers and improve the chances of product success. Using this computer program for consumer surveys will probably save us hundreds of thousands,” says Hilde Kraggerud.

ConsumerCheck started in autumn 2009. The method is based on the PanelCheck program, which was concluded in 2008. PanelCheck quickly became an industry standard for computer modelling of sensory panels. This program is now used by more than 500 companies and research institutions in more than 50 countries.

“This is a multi-stage rocket. First we developed models for computer processing of the results from sensory panels, now we are widening the concept so as to connect sensory perception, consumers and product development. When the programs have been fully developed, they will be available to download free of charge. That will be during the course of 2013,” says Tormod Næs, Principal research Scientist at Nofima Mat and one of the guiding forces behind both programs.

Useful for many industries

This software is not being developed just for the food industry. It could be used by many industries. Bang & Olufsen, for example, were part of the team when PanelCheck was developed and are still on board for ConsumerCheck.

“The computer modelling is the same whether you are selling a car, electronics or food. Think how much product development and knowledge of consumers is involved in the smell inside a new car, for example. Or, to relate it to the food industry, the consistency of a yoghurt with reduced fat and sugar content,” says Tormod Næs of Nofima Mat.

Tine, Fjordland, Arcus, Norgesgruppen UNIL, Salmon Brands and NCE Culinology are all taking part in the project. Companies and research institutions in Denmark are also important partners for discussion and collaboration. The project is also working with research institutions in South Africa and Australia and is supported by the Research Council of Norway.

 Innovation, consumer and sensory sciences  

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