High-Tech Food Labs Aim to Help Researchers Understand Consumer Needs

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Graduate student Andrew Baynham uses eye-tracking glasses in the new grocery store lab

Exploring consumers’ relationship with food is the focus of two new food laboratories at the University of Guelph, including a state-of-the-art grocery store lab.

The Longo’s Food Retail Lab and the Schneider’s Research Lab opened May 3. Both are designed to help U of G researchers better understand consumer decision-making, consumption habits and reactions to food advertising.

Created to resemble an actual grocery store, the Longo’s Food Retail Lab aims to gauge buyer behaviour patterns as consumers shop.

Researchers will see on a screen what shoppers are interested in

“Researchers will explore a number of areas, including how consumers value and learn about different foods, and their decision-making when viewing advertising, and purchasing and consuming foods,” said lab research director Prof. Michael von Massow, Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Equipped with monitoring cameras and eye-tracking equipment, the mock store allows researchers to gauge consumers’ responses to grocery store flyers or television advertisements, nutritional information and in-depth surveys both before and after visiting the store.

Computer equipment in the neighbouring Schneider’s Research Lab will allow researchers to evaluate participants’ reactions to advertising.

Finding new ways to innovate when it comes to food is critical, said Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research).

“The federal government sees inclusive economic growth and jobs coming from food and agriculture, and it hopes to see Canada double food exports over the next several years,” he said.

“As Canada’s food university, we have a key role to play in innovation, and in helping the food and agriculture sectors to grow. The data learned here will assist researchers from across U of G in developing unique solutions to the challenges these sectors face.”

Prof. Michael von Massow

Longo Brothers Fruit Market Inc. and Schneider Foods provided funding for the labs, located in Macdonald Stewart Hall, home to the College of Business and Economics.

“We are excited to be supporting this unique and innovative research facility at the University of Guelph,” said Anthony Longo, president and CEO of Longo’s.

“We believe that it will not only contribute to a broader understanding of consumer food purchasing behaviour, but also provide us with real insight to help us serve customers better.”

Von Massow said he hopes the labs will help researchers, and eventually stores and consumers, better understand Canadians’ food needs.

“Recognizing how consumers process the bombardment of information on food they receive and make decisions in store is poorly understood,” said von Massow.

“The results of our research will help deliver Canadians the foods they want and the information they need.”