Consumer research on food choice behavior

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research examines how consumers handle food products – literally, psychologically and emotionally - in daily life. Manufacturers can use the insights from our consumer research to adjust their products optimally for their target markets and so increase success. Governments can use similar data to develop effective health policies.

What do consumers think of when they are in front of a supermarket shelf? Home, at the kitchen table, do people notice that they are eating bread with less salt? Do they prepare a product in the way the product developer had in mind? Do they take large or small bites? Manufacturers aiming to launch new or improved food products - for example, with less salt, sugar or fat, or with extra fiber or protein – want such questions answered. This data is also vital for governments needing to develop effective health campaigns. Classic consumer research often does not provide either appropriate or reliable data. If you ask consumers about their eating behavior, they often answer that they eat enough fruits and vegetables. However, in reality, only a few people in the Netherlands meet the nutrition recommendations of the Voedingscentrum (Netherlands Nutrition Centre). Moreover, in laboratory sensory studies, people are able to determine differences in taste, smell or texture between different products and brands. However, when out of the test environment they are not aware of these differences.

Consumer research

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research examines how consumers behave in daily life with respect to food: How does a product catch their attention in the store? How do they, when at the shelf, make their choices? How do they consume the product and what do they do with the leftovers? To get an accurate picture we observe consumers in an environment that is as natural as possible (real-life testing). We use our own Restaurant of the Future and mood rooms, supermarkets, hospitals and people's homes. Our consumer research provides insights that help manufacturers and governments to develop products, marketing and health campaigns that are precisely-targeted to their audiences.

We combine various types of sensory and consumer research and develop advanced ICT applications and intelligent software to automatically observe and interpret consumer behavior. For example, in our mood rooms cameras record exactly how people react to smells. Together with the client we determine which method is best suited to their specific questions.

Salt reduction

Wageningen Food & Biobased Research investigated in the Restaurant of the Future whether gradual reduction of the salt content in bread could contribute to reducing total salt intake. For four weeks, 116 subjects were given a weekday breakfast containing bread with less and less salt. Salt reduction of up to 67%, in combination with flavor compensation via potassium chloride and yeast extract, had no effect on the number of sandwiches people ate. The choice of toppings was also unaffected. The study has been published in the Journal of Nutrition.

For consumer research at home, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research uses an innovative, proprietary research method: Taste@Home Conjoint Testing. The test provides insight into how people interact with products at home and can be flexibly adapted to the wishes of the client. The advantage of this method is that consumers can use products in their own habitual ways. This provides a more reliable result than testing in a laboratory setting.