Different occasion, different preferences
When it comes to celebrations and parties, we want our smoked salmon, cured ham and well-matured Jarlsberg as traditional as they come. For everyday food, we are more open to healthier and more convenient options.
Producers of traditional food are meeting strong competition from other food products and need innovation and renewal. But combining tradition and innovation is not so easy. Valérie Lengard Almli of the food research institute Nofima presented her doctoral disputation on 30 August. She has been studying the extent to which consumers will accept innovation in traditional food.
Almli has investigated attitudes to traditional food in six European countries, and her conclusion is that consumers have a generally positive image of traditional food throughout Europe. Her clear message to the makers of traditional food is that they make a distinction between everyday traditional food and traditional food for special occasions, because consumers think very differently in these two cases.
People over 40 eat more traditional food
European consumers perceive traditional food to be good and relatively healthy. They believe it has high quality, but can be time consuming to prepare. Those who eat most traditional food are the middle aged and elderly. They are health and quality conscious. They like making food and they base their food choices on familiarity.
There are differences in the way different consumer groups relate to innovation in traditional food, but a consistent theme is that all consumers are more open to innovative traditional food for everyday eating than for special occasions.
However there are some innovations that consumers really appreciate for special occasions. If they give the impression of being more authentic (such as a famous origin), more natural (such as organic production) or more exclusive (such as exclusive packaging), then the product’s traditional image can be strengthened.
Studied acceptance of different kinds of innovation
In her experiments with consumers, Almli divided innovations into three different groups:
1. Product innovations with a health effect (reduced salt, reduced fat, healthier fat and increased omega-3 content)
2. Production innovations (new curing process, organic production)
3. Marketing innovations (new packaging, new origins)
For everyday eating, consumers want innovations of convenience, such as plastic packaging with a resealing function, and health effect innovations, such as healthier fat, but because innovations like these are perceived as making the products less traditional, they are less popular for special occasions.
Taste, appearance and texture should stay the same
"The ultimate rule for consumer acceptance is that any change to the recognised sensory properties that characterise traditional food should only be made with great care," says Almli.
This is illustrated by consumer tests Almli carried out with smoked salmon. The consumers had no negative preconceptions about either salt substitutes or salt injection in smoked salmon. But while smoked salmon with salt substitutes tasted the same as the traditional product, the salt-injected fillets suffered changes to appearance, taste and texture. The consumers showed the same acceptance and willingness to pay for smoked salmon with salt substitutes as for the traditional product, but were less willing to accept or pay for the salt-injected product.
"To put it simply, the most acceptable innovations in traditional food are those that give consumers a benefit, but do not destroy the traditional image or the product’s characteristic sensory properties," concludes Almli.