Leatherhead Food Research (LFR) scientists constantly help food firms reformulate products to respond to, or create, new markets.
Common requests are for low fat, low salt and low sugar foods or replacing synthetic additives with natural ones. I have reported on the use of plant extracts as preservatives in this column before. Increasingly we are also being asked to look at functional ingredients that can impart health benefits to foods.
Typically the reformulated product must taste good or face consumer rejection. This is supported by a recent study by Fiona Lalor from University College Dublin, which used focus groups to identify the vital factors influencing food purchase. Health claims were considered, but the most influential areas were taste, price and special offers. These results align with LFR research.
I'm not surprised, as in the last few years the amount of consumer research and food benchmarking carried out at LFR has more than doubled. We now have over 50 consumers every day tasting foods for benchmarking and acceptability testing. Our volunteer database screens thousands of consumers on shopping habits, so we can choose the demographic for tasting sessions.
So many questionnaires were completed daily, we decided to implement Compusense. This Canadian technology firm enabled us to integrate the application for consumer testing using iPads, so we could capture opinions electronically and give instant feedback. We call it SenseReach because it extends the reach of sensory testing across the globe. Well, anywhere there is an iPad or online connection.
It also allows consumers to evaluate visual concepts at home, including early prototype images, packaging and brand imagery. Products can then be sent to the consumers for evaluation "in use" in a real consumer setting. It's a brave new world!
Paul Berryman is chief executive of Leatherhead Food Research.