Looking for answers to what customers want

Access to information has never been greater; the question is how all the information should be used. In her Ph.D. work, Elena Menichelli has been researching and developing statistical methods to make it easier to understand what consumers want.

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Tormod Næs

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tormod.naes@nofima.no

– In order to understand what kind of food consumers prefer, data must be gathered from many different areas. The more we know, the better opportunities we have for analysis, but we also need methods that can combine different types of information,” says Elena Menichelli, Ph.D. student at the food research institute Nofima.

Multiblock methods for complex answers

If food producers are to have a reasonable guarantee of success when they develop new food products or improve existing ones, they need answers to a variety of different types of question.

These might be answers to:

  • which properties are important for consumers
  • how important demographic differences are: age, gender, civil status, education and income
  • how important attitudes and habits are for consumer choice: for example how concerned consumers are that food is healthy or how much importance consumers attach to fat or sugar content.

Elena has been using so-called multiblock methods to analyse consumer preferences in yoghurt, cheese, apple juice and orange juice, among other things. Such methods can provide more complex answers. They can link sensory and chemical properties with what properties consumers are looking for, with consumer attitudes and habits and with demographics.

An example: the sensory panel characterises different kinds of low-fat yoghurt and places them on a taste chart. Chemical analysis shows the distribution of constituents in the different yoghurts. Consumer surveys give answers about whether or not the yoghurts are preferred and what properties the various consumer groups (by demographics and attitudes) like and dislike.

Understanding and insight

– A consistent theme of my thesis is heterogeneity between consumers and strategies for segmenting them. Real understanding of consumer acceptance requires insight into both average acceptance patterns and individual differences, says Elena.

This research has been important in the development of new software, ConsumerCheck, which will be available in 2014. ConsumerCheck will make it easier to interpret complex information.

– Elena’s research can help companies in their marketing work, because with better segmentation they can be much surer of success with product launches. They can also understand how their own products match up to the competition, concludes Elena’s supervisor, professor Tormod Næs, who is a Senior Research Scientist at Nofima.

The doctorate has been financed by the Research Council of Norway, through the user-controlled project ConsumerCheck, which is led by Tine.

Facts about the disputation
Elena Menichelli’s disputation was on 22 November at UMB and the title of her thesis is “Multiblock methods for the analysis of consumer acceptance of food”. The thesis was delivered in the auditorium at Nofima, Osloveien 1, Ås.

The supervisors have been professor/senior research scientist Tormod Næs of Nofima, senior research scientist Nina Veflen Olsen of Nofima, associate professor Trygve Almøy of IKBM (UMB) and professor Solve Sæbø of IKBM (UMB).

Consumer and sensory sciences  

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