The SenTo panel, established by Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, provides insight into the food choices, product perception and eating behaviour of senior consumers.
Senior populations are growing and increasing in diversity with respect to socio-economic status, age, living arrangements, cultural backgrounds, capacities and interests. These developments bring both opportunities and challenges. How can we help older adults make appropriate food choices? How would they respond to protein-enriched foods? Do senior consumers like the taste of soup with a reduced salt level? There are no simple answers to these questions. The sensory perception and nutritional needs of older adults differ from those of younger consumers, and they perceive food products in a different way. Moreover, there is no ‘standard’ senior consumer. While one senior might be perfectly capable of going to the supermarket alone and preparing a meal, another might need to rely on home-delivered ready-to-eat meals.
The SenTo (consumer) panel, unique in its size and composition in Europe, offers insight into the nutritional needs and desires of senior consumers. This enables food companies to better focus their product development, thereby increasing their chances of market success.
SenTo consists of over 800 independently-living seniors aged 55 to 93 years of age, who are computer literate. SenTo members regularly receive questionnaires about their health, weight and social life. The sensory capabilities (taste and smell function) of the majority of the panel members have been assessed via validated tests. SenTo members are frequently invited to evaluate existing and experimental products in different settings, e.g. a sensory lab, a virtual supermarket or at home. Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, in this area, is targeted at improving understanding of how older adults value, choose and prepare foods and how much they consume. We also examine whether health monitoring via advanced self-measurement instruments can motivate people to make healthy choices in diet and lifestyle. Within the SenTo panel specific subgroups can be defined for specific questions, for example whether a protein drink can help older adults with mild malnutrition or whether a product evokes similar emotional responses in 70 and 90-year-olds.
Older adults’ food choices
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is using SenTo for a variety of research programmes and projects. In Cater with Care we work together with healthcare institutions and food producers to design foods to prevent or treat malnutrition. Studies with the SenTo panel have provided information on the desired nutritional value, portion size, taste and texture of these products.
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research is a partner in the public-private partnership Personalized Nutrition and Health. In collaboration with the research organizations TNO and Wageningen Economic Research, we investigate in this project how personalized advice can support older adults in making optimal diet and lifestyle choices. Based on blood parameters (including levels of cholesterol and glucose), body measurements (height, weight, upper-arm and upper-leg circumference and muscle strength), lifestyle variables and genetic data, individually-tailored dietary and lifestyle advice is provided to individual consumers.
In The Intelligent Consumer Systems project applications are being developed that support people to make healthy food choices. For example, the Recipe Checker indicates if a recipe fits into a salt or cholesterol-reduced diet or whether a diet contains the optimum amount of fibre. The application also provides suggestions for substituting ingredients to meet general nutritional guidelines. The SenTo panel has tested the App’s usability and suitability for senior consumers.
In another project we discovered that seniors can be segmented based on the emotions they experience at meal times.