Consumer Perceptions Of Innovative Food Products

Innovation in food technology has certainly seen laboratory scientists come up with some unique alternatives to traditional farm grown food. Innovations in the food industry have been happening since the early 19th century. At this time, the invention of pasteurised milk and long life cheese which we take for granted today shocked consumers. 

These and other developments have provided a wealth of benefits to consumers. Benefits range from positive influences on public health, eco friendly food production, improved convenience, better food quality and cheaper costs.

More recently, consumers have been faced with innovations like plant based protein, lab-grown meat and edible packaging. Economic and environmental awareness has forced consumers to consider eating food that they otherwise would not consider. Consumers are now using a different lens to evaluate food and beverages because they are now more health conscious. Consumers desire safety and quality above all else, and are more sustainability minded and ethically driven than ever.

To understand what consumers were thinking about modern sources of protein, one report analysed reactions to four new protein sources. The food examined in the study included: 

  1. Genetically modified salmon
  2. Dairy milk produced in a lab
  3. Meat grown in a lab 
  4. Cricket protein. 

Consumers’ perception of a new food depended on where the food was manufactured. Overall, consumers preferred foods grown in the field or manufactured in the kitchen. Problematic reactions were recorded when consumers were asked to evaluate food grown in a lab or manufactured in a factory. Laboratory based innovations were greeted with the least enthusiasm out of the four food sources.

Specifically, consumers found little joy in consuming lab-produced milk or insect proteins. They saw little overlap between the benefits of these snacks and the benefits of other dairy and meat alternatives. 

Genetically modified salmon had the most appeal out of any of the four groups. Similarly, consumers didn’t have any adverse reactions to cricket protein as a concept. However, they did not find much delight in eating insect-based snacks. Lab grown dairy and milk products were seen as risqué because they had no natural source of origin during product development.

When judging these protein concepts, consumers tend to assess the acceptability of innovations on a case by case basis. They weigh up not just “rational” risks and benefits but more culturally driven criteria. The following are some of the criteria evaluated by consumers before deciding to buy and consume a food product:

  • The motivations of the food technologist
  • The level of transparency they demonstrate
  • The amount of control they feel they have over the product
  • How tolerable the food feels. 

Consuming meat and dairy alternatives has become mainstream. Consumers lean towards protein substitutes for personal benefit, the benefit of their community and the benefit of the environment. Food companies and food processing facilities must leverage consumer perceptions of value in order to successfully position new products. “Positive progress” and “quality assurance” should be primary value propositions when selling new food science and technology in Australian grocery stores.

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