Studies in a real life setting are valuable and give different insights from the more classic sensory taste and consumer tests, particularly for reformulated foods.
In recent years, the Restaurant of the Future has conducted several studies aimed at gaining insight into behaviour related to food choices and consumer acceptance low salt products.
These studies were commissioned by the Ministries of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I) and Health, Welfare and Sport (VWS) in a joint venture between Wageningen UR, TNO and RIVM. In an experimental real-life breakfast setting, for specially recruited consumers (mainly students), it was found that bread containing 52% less salt was enjoyed just as much as normal bread (J. Nutr 2011, 141:2249). The participants were unaware of the aim of this breakfast study. During the breakfast with low salt bread, 0.6 - 0.7 grams less salt was eaten. However, a sensory taste test conducted after the breakfast study, where the consumers evaluated the taste of normal bread and low salt variants for ‘tasty’ and ‘salty’, clearly showed taste differences.
In addition, a real life observational study was conducted with the regular lunchtime guests at the Restaurant of the Future. The purpose of which was to see whether purchase behaviour changed when low salt bread and soup was offered without being advertised as such. Among the restaurant visitors, a subgroup of bread and soup consumers was selected (99 visitors regular consuming bread and soup in the study period) and their purchase patterns were analysed. A slight decline in the number of soup (4.0%) and bread (4.7%) purchases was found upon introduction of the low salt variants. This was attributed to a relatively small number of the selected visitors.
The results showed that during a lunch of low salt soup and/or bread, around 0.6 grams less salt was consumed on average! Interestingly, when sensory tests of the regular and low salt variants were conducted among consumers who were aware of the test, most participants tasted a difference. These real life studies indicate that testing in a natural context of food choice behaviour gives a more realistic picture of consumer acceptance of low salt (reformulated) products than consumer sensory focusing only on the first bite, as commonly used by the industry. It also clearly shows that consumers are able to accept salt reduced products when not aware of the reduction performed.