Most people living in Europe consume too much salt, fat and sugar. This is leading to an increase in the number of people suffering from diet-related illnesses, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. To curb this trend, European consumers must be encouraged to eat more healthily – and it must be made easy for them to make this choice. Companies that are active in the food industry play a key role here, as the onus is on them to develop products that
are both tasty and healthy.
Insight into consumer behaviour is essential for development healthy products
Knowledge is at the heart of each successful healthy food product. This knowledge includes information on consumers’ food intake and how this affects their bodies, as well as information on consumer behaviour (what goes on their shopping lists and, ultimately, what and how they consume). We still have a long way to go in this area. With a spectrum of different measuring methods, techniques and indicators, there is still no uniform European standard for precompetitive research into nutrition, consumer behaviour and health. This fragmentation has led to a worrying lack of data in the European research domain of ‘Consumer, Nutrition and Health’ that can be linked up and compared. Thankfully, the feed and food industry has been investing heavily in R&D. That said, besides the immense amount of capital this requires, the fragmented data are out of date after just two years and cannot be compared between countries. The majority of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) also cannot afford to carry out costly research, resulting in a knowledge gap caused by the lack of knowledge feedback.
Standardisation needed to compare consumer behaviour
In light of this, Wageningen University & Research has joined forces with research institutes from eight European countries to build a European infrastructure for scientific research into nutrition, health and consumer behaviour. By standardising and harmonising indicators so that they can be compared between countries, we are able to create comparable and linkable data sets and tools. This approach is unique in the way it focuses on consumers. The EU-project RICHFIELDS (www.richfields.eu) aims to establish a European platform for consumers to share personal information on their eating patterns, food intake and health with other players in the chain. The next challenge for companies is to analyse these big data in a meaningful way. While large companies have the expertise to do this, smaller companies do not. To give them a helping hand in becoming a driving force within nutrition and health, they are being trained to organise and open up data effectively.
With joint infrastructure, retail and food industry can develop and market attractive and healthy products
Having a united European research infrastructure is an enormous boost for the business community. This is particularly true for retail businesses, which have been gathering data on purchasing behaviour for decades now. However, while research and industry still have very limited access to these large data sets, retail businesses are also not gaining the greatest benefit from research into how consumer behaviour, nutrition and health fit together. A common infrastructure could also be extremely useful for food and feed companies. By sharing and opening up essential precompetitive knowledge, they will be in a better position to plug the gap and develop consumer products that are both tasty and healthy. All in all, this has brought us a step closer to establishing an approach that successfully reduces diet-related diseases in Europe.