Food emotions can play a crucial part in healthy indulgence

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages
Pic: GettyImages

Related tags Indulgence Chocolate Confectionery

The notion of ‘healthy indulgence’ represents a shift of emphasis – and an exciting opportunity – for confectioners, chocolatiers, and bakers who are only too well aware that consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious and interested in sugar reduction – but are not prepared to give up indulgent treats completely.

This is because meaningful, multi-sensory eating experiences offer a moment of escape from the pressures of modern life. Think decadent desserts, exotic delicacies, and novel, shareable brand experiences. By blending physical and emotional wellbeing, healthy indulgence means enjoying healthy products – such as a reduced-calorie chocolate bar boosted with delicious botanicals – that are sweet and tasty.

This is undoubtedly a challenge, says taste and wellbeing experts Givaudan, but through its sensory insights programs, it claims it can deliver solutions that fulfill consumers’ needs on all levels.

Multi-sensory moments

A big challenge is in the complexity of the applications. The overall experience is not just about taste: it’s mouthfeel, crunch, crispiness, chewiness, softness, and often a mixture of those elements that make up an indulgent texture. There are many things to consider when creating a delectable and healthy product that ensures that richness in the mouth goes way beyond just achieving sugar substitution.

Neuroscience and consumer experience

In a new collaboration with neuroscience company Thimus, Givaudan says it is delving even deeper to unlock food emotions and offer a new window into the consumer's mind.

Thimus, the exclusive TBox platform developer, provides an integrated collection of explicit and implicit data for exploring how humans experience food. Givaudan’s collaboration with Thimus is the first extensive use of the TBox platform in food, resulting in the company’s new programme, Food Emotions.

Food products are being redesigned to meet new expectations, and sustainability, health, quality, and emotion are crucial considerations in this re-invention. “Understanding and responding to consumer preferences has never been more important, but there’s often a gap between what consumers say and their actual experience and behavior. Neuroscience may be the key to closing that gap. A portable tool developed by Thimus is used to gain a fuller understanding of the consumer experience,” the company says.

In addition to only having consumers participate in a focus group or answer a questionnaire, Thimus’ TBox provides participants with a headset to wear during taste tests. The headset records brain signals, which are then processed by validated algorithms to measure four key mental states: frontal asymmetry, engagement, cognitive workload, and relaxation. Using proprietary software and a cloud-based database for data analysis and retrieval, the tool can deliver previously unavailable or unreliable insights.

“Neuroscience has the unique ability to reveal how consumers truly feel about a product throughout the eating or drinking experience,” explains Fabio Campanile, Global Head of Science & Technology for Taste & Wellbeing at Givaudan, in an exclusive interview with CN, he explained more about the collaboration.

Q: How will incorporating the Thimus methodology improve current consumer research methods?

A: As background information, traditional research methods rely on self-reporting and maybe sometimes unreliable due to memory biases and retrospective recollection. What TBox does differently is minimise these issues by integrating both implicit and explicit data collection and offering a more accurate representation of consumer experiences.

Q: What data is collected, and how is data integrated from multiple fields of research?

A: The Thimus' TBox is a portable headset and recording device equipped with proprietary software that collects data in four key areas: neuro data, traditional sensory analysis (explicit data), cultural data, as well as emotion and behaviour data. Data sets from these areas are compared to create a comprehensive picture of how humans process food experiences. This approach provides insights that may not be present in traditional sensory studies. To further explain, the technology combines implicit and explicit data collection methods to assess how humans perceive texture, fragrance, and taste. It collects high-quality data on brain activity (neuro data), meaningful explicit data via survey administration (traditional sensory analysis), and data on cultural influences. This unique methodology aims to provide a more comprehensive understanding of food experiences.

Q: What insights or discoveries are available with this new approach?

A: Our research carried out at Givaudan with Thimus technology has already delivered some interesting insights. For example, we have seen that different flavours can "pair" differently with botanicals or active health ingredients and can help support (or not support) the perception of the benefit. We were also able to precisely describe the food experience from smell to taste or aftertaste and in time. This allows us to be much more specific in our feedback to the flavour and product development teams.

 Givaudan understands that flavour and taste preferences are heavily culturally dependent. Many factors such as nationality, gender, age as well as habitual diet can influence food and flavour choices. Thimus places a strong emphasis on cultural influences in their research. They believe that understanding how culture affects food perception and the food experience is essential. By integrating cultural data into their investigations, they aim to explain and predict people's eating habits more effectively.

 Thimus' methodology has been used in various applications, such as product reformulation, supply chain modelling, QA/QC empowerment, sensory evaluation, market research, and precision retailing.

Q: Expand on the notion of ‘healthy indulgence’ regarding the increasingly health-conscious consumer interested in sugar reduction, for example

A: According to GlobaData Consumer Survey Insights[1]​, the pandemic prompted consumers to prioritize fun and indulgence as an antidote to the anxiety around them. The Sensory & Indulgence mega-trend significantly influences over half of the global consumer population. However, factors such as health, convenience, and value often take precedence over pure indulgence. Overall, confectionery producers must maintain flexibility in their production lines. This enables them to create products that not only deliver a memorable sensory experience but also cater to health-conscious consumers.

Q: Has Givaudan used the Thimus technology in confectionery? If so, can he share any insights?

A: The technology is being gradually rolled out to Givaudan teams around the world in the various industries we serve and is currently being activated in Europe and LATAM. We expect that APAC, NOAM and SAMEA will follow in due course. We will be happy to share insights from the confectionery field once we have gathered it.

Q: If not, how can the technology be used in confectionery, going forward?

A: Neuroscience has a unique ability to reveal how consumers truly feel about a product throughout the eating experience. The collaboration with Thimus marks a significant milestone in consumer understanding. It has the power to revolutionize how we co-create with our customers, increasingly meeting consumer satisfaction, and transforming the way the world eats while enabling more nutritious food choices.

For confectionery, this technology offers significant potential. For example, Givaudan has already utilized Thimus technology in recent consumer tests comparing two prototypes. The results revealed that consumers implicitly found one concept significantly more satisfying than the other. The implicit data gathered from Thimus was instrumental in pinpointing a negative reaction during the tasting phase of the second product. The team could then identify a successful route to optimize the product by improving mouthfeel. In this instance, the problem and its resolution could not have been uncovered by examining declarative data alone.

In the context of confectionery, such insights are invaluable. They allow producers to understand the subtle nuances of consumer preferences and reactions to different flavours, textures, and overall eating experiences. This understanding can lead to more refined and desirable confectionery products that meet the evolving tastes and preferences of consumers.

[1]​ GlobaData Consumer Survey Insights, Mega-Trend Tracking – Understanding Shifts in TrendSights Influence. GDCS0012SI. Published : November 11, 2022

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