16 November 2021
What should the Silver population eat in future? How can canned food become more attractive and how do we optimize to ensure more of a quality stamp? What health demands are there for the growing convenience market of snacking?
These were the three challenges provided by Nestlé Health Science, Sæby Fiskeindustri and Easyfood on Tuesday 9th of November as the Digital Uni Food Day was carried out by Food & Bio Cluster together with University of Copenhagen, Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and Aarhus University. To answer these questions, nine scientists from the three large food universities of Denmark gave their input to discuss the issue in an online format. With this article, we will try to give you an overview of the ongoing science presented on the day – many of the conclusions can be used much wider than for the specific challenges discussed.
Disclaimer: The article is Food & Bio Clusters’ own selection and understanding of the days’ discussions, for further details and accurate scientific references, please contact the mentioned scientist or company representative.
The first session was focusing on satisfying the Silver population with food that fulfill both the physiological needs and the important aspects of stimulating appetite and taking pleasure in eating. The stage was set by Susanne Wolff, who pointed at under-nutrition, over-nutrition and unhealthy lifestyles as factors that affect a sense of well-being for people of the age of 60+ years, and listed some facts about nutritional needs that appear stronger when humans age such as Calcium, Vitamin D and Vitamin B12.
The first scientist to bring his research to the debate was Wender Bredie from the Institute of Food Research at the University of Copenhagen. He suggested companies should take into account that the sensory abilities change over time, but they don’t do this equally for all, they change in a heterogenous way. Wender Bredie shared some insights from tests done on preferences as people age, and could inform that most people of +60 have a higher preference for stronger umami and salty tastes. He supplied this specific knowledge with studies showing that even though some sensitivity is lost at 60+, liking for asparagus, banana, cinnamon, curry, cooked meat, champignon, onion and bacon remain unchanged, while preference for coffee, raspberry, thyme, toasted bread, vanilla and orange seem to fade.
Wender Bredie also introduced results from studies on meals for people suffering from dysphagia (the decreasing ability to chew and swallow). In Denmark, at least 10-15% persons living in elder care suffer from dysphagia, and studies show that the two main factors hindering them from maintaining interest to eat is the sensory quality and the lack of variety in the dysphagia adapted food, which is typically highly processed and reshaped food. The recent study done with the Danish Dysfagicentret, in which regular meat is being treated with an enzyme, is showing promising results. While the process ensures a soft structure accessible to people with dysphagia, the prepared meat look and tastes like normally prepared meat.
Along the line of maintaining an interest in eating through your silver age, the next scientist, Barbara Vad Andersen from the Department of Food Science, Aarhus University, took the audience around the many factors that affect appetite. First, she determined that the physiological appetite regulatory system can be overruled by pleasure signals through the hedonic system. Then she went through elements that affect the appetite, not only the medical or physical conditions, but also people’s individual preferences that people link to food pleasure, such as novelty/familiarity, eating alone/with others and cognitive preferences such as political viewpoints and ethics. One important conclusion is that personal preferences remain individual also in your silver age. Thus, when developing products to stimulate appetite, food producers should consider the broad variety of preferences and should take into account not only sensory properties, but also aspects the above mentioned aspects such as meal-sharing and familiarity of food.
After these talks on needs and preferences, Claus Heiner Bang-Bertelsen, Senior Researcher at The National Food Institute at DTU turned towards the production, and how to concretely produce foods that meet the demands of preserving or adding vitamins as well as ensuring the right amount of protein. Now, the discussion also took the food system’s transformation towards more plant-based production into account. Claus shared insights on research within naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria from DTU’s cell bank for fermenting non-animal dairy-like products, and currently, the best starter culture for providing the right acidity and fluidity is being tested. At the same time, in another study, the National Food Institute is screening for finding best starter culture to improve Riboflavin (vitamin B2) content.
As for the discussion with Sæby Fiskeindustri, two questions were brought to the scientists by Ranya K. Abdullah: Understanding consumer preferences for seafood and how to improve the attractiveness of canned food. Also for this discussion, the university experts supplied interesting knowledge.
First, Grethe Hyldig from the National Food Institute made the distinction between objective and subjective sensory level; for an objective description of taste, a trained sensory panel is used by the DTU, while consumer tests must be carried out for a full picture of the perceived taste of certain products – the subjective level. Grethe Hyldig then presented a series of studies made on aspects of consumer perception of fish. Here, comparative studies between Iceland, Denmark, The Netherlands and Ireland indicate that consumers prefer fish “the way they know it” – e.g. Irish consumers prefer cod stored longer “as they know it from fish’n’chips”. The research provided by Grethe emphasizes the importance of not relying only on an “objective” sensory evaluation for creating a product-market fit.
As for when it comes to measuring the nutritional values of fish, Violetta Aru from the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen brought a couple of methods to the table, explaining that when measuring the nutritional values of fish, new and older methods are complementary. For proteins and fat bulk composition in fish, Kjeldahl method, Soxhlet method and Near Infrared Spectroscopy are suggested, while NMR spectroscopy and Chromatographic methods can indicate more details – the “chemical speciation” on e.g. amino fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids. Violetta Aru did ensure Sæby Fiskeindustry, that when applying the mentioned methods for measuring the nutritional properties of mackerel, it is true that it is high on polyunsaturated fatty acids and well-balanced in EPA/DHA compared with other fish varieties such as carp and herring. Now that’s a fact to ensure consumers know of!
Moving forward to the stage when a producer is presenting the canned fish to the consumer, Niki Alexi from the MAPP Center at Aarhus University introduced the audience to studies conducted in 2016-2017 exposing consumers to six varieties of processed and unprocessed fish. In these studies, it was indicated that consumers had a higher liking and buying intention for the less prepared fish. The study showed that fresh fillet scored higher in liking and buying intention compared with a fish burger or a fish paté. The same study had also exposed consumers to pictures of the product in a user situation, and this visual presentation of consuming experience increased the degree of liking & buying intention. This all suggests that a beautiful photo of your product in a serving situation, e.g. on the packaging, stimulates more interest than “simply” the product itself. Yet, Alexi reminded the audience, studies remain clear that buying intention is always lower than liking of a product you are exposed to – in other words, consumers don’t necessarily urge for shopping something they like.
For the Uni Food Day’s third debate, consumers’ readiness to take into account health and sustainability aspects when purchasing on-the-go convenience products was discussed, and some interesting insights on consumer behavior, food development and sales point studies was brought to the table.
First, Kirsten Jensen from the savory snack producer Easyfood, introduced the problem. She focused on the company’s attempts to supply the on-the-go product portfolio typically sold at gasoline stations or snack stands with heathier alternatives to the classic sausage in a bread roll – the Danish pølsebrød, which has not had the expected sales, thus not being interesting enough for the consumers. Following this experience, Kirsten asked whether consumers are ready to accept a sausage with e.g. 30-50% plant based protein instead of meat as an attempt to turn more plant-based.
To give perspective to this question, Polymeros Chrysochou from the MAPP-centre at Aarhus University presented studies on cravings people experience throughout the day, and actually, there seems to be a pattern. The study showed that in the morning, people crave healthy (22% of the respondents), light (23%) and energizing (29%), in the noon consumers look for energizing (22%), sweet (23%) and healthy (26%), while in the evening, people seek for snacks that are indulging (22%), comforting (25%) and sweet (30%).
Regarding the packaging, studies show that in a situation where consumers look for indulgence, they will seek for packaging that communicates indulgence, even if a healthier choice. In supplement to this study, another study shows that consumers find that brighter colors signal indulgence better than white/light colored packaging and consumers consider the brighter colored packaging to contain a healthier snack.
As for supporting the consumers’ intention to consider the environment when snacking, a simple test carried out in which a poster with a photo of a landscape was put up next to a vending machine, which showed to do affect the consumers’ purchase towards a more environmentally friendly alternative.
Michael Bom Frøst from the Institute of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen followed Polymeros Chrysochou, and paid a special attention to the consumers’ three interactions with food; the sensorial, the functional and the reflective levels. Yet these interactions are situation specific, as Polymeros highlighted. In this case, a sausage bread roll represents a savory snack (sensorial) to cover a sudden crave (function) e.g. when driving on the motorway and you stop at a gas station to get a snack. Food producers can change a product when consumer behavior, the product’s function or meaning changes. In this particular question, the on-the-go situation decides much of the condition for the food’s function, which remains unchanged – a sudden crave on the go. Yet meaning is changing as the consumers start being aware of health and environmental issues.
When considering to produce new, more sustainable alternatives for the situation, it should be taken into account that science shows consumers prefer effort-less changes in behavior. Summing up, Michael advises producers to go for opting one or very few clear value proposition and fully deliver on this (these), e.g. provide a tasty and more sustainable product as an alternative to the same situation.
That consumers’ behavior and preferences do change, but change slowly was one of the key messages by the next speaker, Sisse Fagt, from the National Food Institute at DTU.
Sisse emphasized that health and convenience are major trends, but that consumer habits change slowly over times. Jumps in behavioral changes happen, but are rare. Studies continuously conducted by the institute (DANSDA) show that in 2020, interest in eating healthy is still rising, but there remains both a gender gap (women are more inclined to healthy eating habits) and some educational gap; consumers with vocational education eat more sausages&bread and are less interested in healthy food than consumers with long further education.
From another study conducted by the institute, “Lev vel”, it was concluded that even though the project developed and introduced new, healthier alternatives of fast food through e.g. burger chains, the front-line personnel was not aligned and aware of these healthier alternatives, thus the attempt failed. In other words, Sisse Fagt made it clear that if a white-label producer has the intention of producing healthier alternatives, all of the value chain must be well aligned and instructed in order for new initiatives to have the expected impact on the market.
Summing up both Polymeros, Michael and Sisses presentations, the consumer’s crave must be met in the purchasing situation, and if your intention is to nudge for other alternatives (healthier or more environmentally friendly), both packaging, display environment and front-line service should be taken into account.
The Digital Uni Food day was this year’s meeting between three companies and nine scientists, organized by Food & Bio Cluster Denmark with support from the Ministry of Education and Science through the innovation programme Innovationskraft.
If your company wishes to be part of next year’s version of the event, or you are interested in learning more from the mentioned scientists or collaborating with them, you can contact either the scientists directly, or get in touch with our colleague Heidi Høy Dyrholm at firstname.lastname@example.org – she can also guide you to funding sources.
Silver population, canned fish and snacking