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What happens when consumers see “cricket flour” on a label? The outcome is not what you would expect.

What happens when Western food marketers blend novel food items, such as insect protein, with more commonly accepted ingredients? A recent study suggests that may be an effective strategy.

 

Researchers from the Division of Human Nutrition at the Wageningen University in The Netherlands recently investigated the extent to which consuming novel food ingredients, such as insects, is shaped by beliefs held by a consumer before they ever eat the actual product. What they found has implications for marketers and producers of novel food products in Western countries.


Hui Shan Grace Tan, Claudia Joyce Tibboel, and Markus Stieger jointly published the study, “Why do unusual novel foods like insects lack sensory appeal? Investigating the underlying sensory perceptions”. Their experiment involved 100 Dutch consumers who were presented with 4 different burger patties with labels “claiming either 100% beef or 75% beef and 25% novel ingredient.” The “novel” ingredients included in three of the four labels were lamb brain, frog meat, and mealworms. The exact wording was: “‘beef burger’, ‘lamb brain burger’, ‘frog meat burger’ and ‘mealworm burger’ … with the latter three collectively described as ‘novel burgers.’”


None of the patties actually contained those ingredients, however. The researchers state: “Due to the offensive nature of these novel foods, we used plant-based modifications of the burger patty recipes to create sensory differences between patties to prevent participants from ingesting these novel foods unknowingly as a result of the randomisation.”


The study focused on the entire experience revolving around a single product: the label, what kinds of beliefs the label triggers, the experience of tasting the product, and reflections on the product after actually tasting it.


Eating a food product is like a story. Eating a novelty food item can be a strange story, for some.


Before tasting each of the patties (some declined a few options, simply based on the label), the researchers provided the Dutch students with a questionnaire (“expected sensory profile”) that asked them to predict how the item would taste. What they found here was not surprising:


“Participants who have tasted frog meat before (n = 31) expected frog meat to taste more chicken than those who have never tasted it before (n = 69), whereas those who have never tasted it before expected it to be more slimy, bitter and musty. Participants who have tasted mealworms before (n = 25) expected mealworms to taste more nutty, crunchy and dry than those who have never tasted it before (n = 75), whereas those who have never tasted it before expected it to be more slimy, bitter and juicy.”


Depending on how novel the ingredient sounded to the student, the expected taste varied widely. They concluded that “participants who have never tasted the novel ingredients before seemed to associate more negative attributes than those who have tasted them before.”


This difference was almost completely erased, however, after all of the subjects tasted the patties. The researchers found that while “beliefs about the food’s taste were informed by species-related associations, and tended to be more negative when the food had never been tasted before … the food’s properties mainly determined the consumption experience.” Despite some subjects having low expectations based on the label’s novel ingredient, the actual experience went some way towards correcting their previous belief.


Tan, et al end with a clear lesson for food innovators such as Chapul, who specializes in non-conventionally ingredients: “product development for culturally inappropriate foods would require selecting suitable product types and adjustment of its properties to match both consumer motivations and taste expectations.”

Novel ingredients on food labels—such as cricket flour—may affect the consumer’s initial motivation to try it; but, in the end, the recipe and taste experience matters more.

Guest Author: Dr. Joel Gladd @brehove 

Source: “Why do unusual novel foods like insects lack sensory appeal? Investigating the underlying sensory perceptions.” Food Quality and Preference. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2017.03.012.

Authors: Hui Shan Grace Tab, Claudia Joyce Tibboel, Markus Stieger.


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