Nutritional neuroscience reveals the gastronomic tastes of the Spaniards
Nutritional neuroscience and neuromarketing in the food sector
The objective of nutritional neuroscience is to use functional neuroimaging and human behavior research techniques to obtain emotional and cognitive functions as well as behavioral correlates of taste, food choice, food consumption, among many other aspects related to gastronomy. When this neuroscience research methodology is applied by companies in specific domains for brands, products or publicity this is usually referred as neuromarketing.
According to the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research ESOMAR, the food sector is one of the sectors that most invest in market research around the world, with an annual budget of more than 4 billion dollars. The companies of the food sector want to understand consumer behavior more than ever, and are increasingly relying on implicit market research techniques based on neuroscience.
In the food sector, neuromarketing is mainly used to:
Understand the positioning of the brand at non-conscious levels: A brand is a concept in the mind of consumers, which, in turn, is associated with other concepts or attributes. These non-conscious associations strongly influence the purchasing decision and consumer experience [Plassmann 2015]. Thanks to neuromarketing, companies of the food sector are objectively studying the attributes most associated with their brand or the competition, finding new brand territories, and evaluating the impact of a communication campaign on the image of the brand.
Evaluate product packaging: In the food sector, packaging design plays a fundamental role as more than 70% of purchase decisions are made at the point of sale, and the products with the most attracting packaging have higher probabilities of being selected [Rettie, 2000]. Food and beverage companies use neuromarketing studies to evaluate new packaging designs and select those with higher in-shelf impact, to search for improvement margins in their packaging, or to verify whether packaging transmits the intended attributes of the product.
Evaluate consumer experience: Besides brand positioning and packaging, another aspect that conditions the purchase of a specific product is the previous experience of consuming the product. In the food sector, neuromarketing evaluates this experience by employing blind tests such as brand and price priming and cross-brand priming.
Optimize publicity investments: The food sector is the sixth sector that most invests in publicity, with annual investments in Spain over 320 million euros [InfoAdex]. To maximize the profit associated with these investments in advertising, companies employ neuromarketing to identify areas of improvement in all their publicity support (especially advertising spots and PLV), which help attract the consumer, transmit the image of the brand adequately, and build a memorable brand.
A pioneering gastronomic neuromarketing study at Alimentaria
Neuromarketing was present at the Alimentaria 2018, the International Trade Show of Food, Beverages and Food Service. The Costa Food Group, along with neurotechnology company Bitbrain, developed a pioneering experience at the fair where the attendees had the opportunity to participate in a real gastronomic neuromarketing experiment. The objective of the study was to determine which product of the Grupo Costa Food generated the highest emotional impact, and verify whether this non-conscious emotional selection detected by neurotechnology matched the conscious selection.
More concretely, the experience was carried out as follows:
Firstly, the participant selected his/her six favorite products from a selection of 21 products of the Costa Food Group (meats, sausages and other pork-derivatives).
Once all devices were set up, the technology displayed the selected products randomly on a screen, while the neurophysiological responses of the participant were recorded and processed (due to the uncontrolled context of the experiment, each product was shown three times to increase reliability).
In the end, the product that caused the highest emotional impact on the participant was displayed.
A total of 235 men and women participated in the action, with more than 28 million brain data and almost half a million GSR data recorded during the entire experience. Thanks to all data collected, it was possible to issue the First Neuromarketing Report at Alimentaria.
Results of the experiment: jamón serrano, the great winner
During conscious and non-conscious selections (emotional impact obtained with neuromarketing techniques), the dry-cured Spanish ham (jamón serrano) was the big winner. Almost 73% of the participants selected jamón serrano as one of their six favorite products, while at non-conscious levels jamón serrano was also the product that caused the highest emotional impact.
The fuet extra (thin, dry cured, sausage of pork meat) was the second most popular product both at conscious and non-conscious levels, while salchichón extra (a different type of Spanish sausage) was placed ninth in conscious selection and third in emotional selection. Maybe salchichón is not sufficiently glamorous to occupy a high position in our conscience, but surely does so non-consciously. The following graphs depict the complete selection order, at conscious and non-conscious levels.
Results of the experiment: what we really like is to delight ourselves
Additionally to the results by product, an analysis was carried out by category: Pica pica (appetizers), Barbecue, Delights, and Sweets.
Comparison of conscious and non-conscious results by category revealed that the Pica pica category presented higher conscious selection, followed closely by the Barbecue category. When considering emotional selection (non-conscious with neuromarketing techniques), most of the products selected belonged to the Barbecue category, followed by Pica pica.
However, it must be highlighted that these two categories include more products, and therefore the probability of selection (conscious and non-conscious) was higher. In this way, a more reasonable result would be obtained after weighting each category by the number of products comprehended. In this case the “I like delighting myself” category was the favorite both consciously and non-consciously.
The value of neuromarketing
In the light of all previous results, it seems that the results at conscious and emotional levels are similar. Herein this coincidence occurred due to the study design, and also because the results grouped the selections of all participants. But what happens if we compare results at conscious and non-conscious levels, for each particípant? In this case, the conscious results only coincide with the non-conscious in 71% of cases (using the F1 score).
In this study, 29% of participants presented conscious selections that were different from the emotional selection obtained with neuromarketing. Note that, as mentioned before, the emotional selection is highly probable to guide the purchase decision. Depending on the type of study, this percentage can be higher or lower, but what this experiment shows us is that our conscious preferences not always coincide with non-conscious preferences. Traditional techniques (explicit research) help us obtain information on the conscious preferences and, now, thanks to neuromarketing techniques (implicit research) it is also possible to know the non-conscious preferences of the consumers. Combination of both techniques gives us a holistic vision of our clients.
It is important to mention that this study utilized new technologies, such as EEG and GSR, widely employed in cognitive neuroscience by cognitive psychologists (link to cognitive biases) to understand emotional and cognitive functions. These new techniques help us understand how our nervous system works, and then comprehend the biologic basis and our behaviors in different applications, including gastronomy and food.
At the end of the page there is a link to the complete neuromarketing report on the Alimentaria experiment carried out by the Costa Food Group with the collaboration of Bitbrain.