Virtual reality reveals our eating behaviour and desires - Danish Food Cluster

Picture text: Test person with Virtual Reality glasses in Future Consumer Lab. Model photo by Lene Hundborg Koss

Virtual reality reveals our eating behaviour and desires

New research from the Future Consumer Lab at the University of Copenhagen shows that virtual reality can be a powerful tool for food research and for companies that want to test new food products in different environments.

Virtual reality (VR) is becoming a ‘game changer’ when it comes to sensory and consumer science. By using carefully designed film recordings and VR glasses, you can optimise consumer tests to make them even more useful for both researchers and food companies, shows new research from the Future Consumer Lab at the Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen.

Relevant for the food industry

‘Our research shows that virtual reality is interesting for product development in the food industry and that the food industry should take these tools very seriously in the future. They offer great potential for seeing how certain products fit into simulated contexts that feel real to the testers. If you want to develop food products for a new market, you can use virtual reality to see whether the target audience likes the product and how enthusiastic they are about it,’ says Professor Wender Bredie, who leads the Future Consumer Lab at the University of Copenhagen.

Imagine sitting in a booth in a neutral room and choosing between two cold drinks. This is how a typical consumer test is conducted and your choice will show what you prefer right then and there surrounded by white walls. But the researchers know that this kind of test does not tell the whole story of our choice. The surroundings also have something to say and it certainly matters whether you are sitting on a sunny beach or skiing in the Alps. But it can be both expensive and difficult to travel around the world with test subjects and equipment because you want to test a product in the context where you expect a product to be most useful.

The current study confirms that you can use virtual reality to create desire for drinks.

‘It is completely new research for our field. Some have looked at preferences – that is what you prefer – but here we have looked at how you can stimulate consumer product engagement, which is one of the core research areas for our new Future Consumer Lab at the University of Copenhagen,’ says Professor Wender Bredie, who believes that it is only a matter of time before virtual reality will be used worldwide for research into consumer desires – and also as a tool to investigate what can get us to make healthier choices.

Virtual reality felt real for most

In the study from Future Consumer Lab, 30 women and 30 men were presented with a variety of drinks twice at a week’s interval. The first time they chose drinks while they imagined they were on a beach. To help them imagine this, they were presented with a photo of a beach. The second time they saw the beach using virtual reality. (See the box for a further description of the study and a link to the research article.)

The results show that 31% of the participants had difficulty imagining themselves on the beach using a photo, while the figure was only 8% in the virtual reality scenario. The participants therefore engaged more in the choice of drinks when they were in the virtual reality scenario. The research shows that the participants were significantly more inclined to choose a cold drink than a warm drink, both when they saw a photo of a beach and when they saw the beach via virtual reality. And the desire for cold drinks was significantly greater (increased by 41%) when the participants were in the virtual reality scenario compared to the laboratory scenario. The desire for cold drinks increased by only 20% when participants imagined being on the beach while looking at a photo of the beach. Conversely, the desire for hot drinks decreased by 51% in the virtual reality scenario and by 43% in the photo scenario.

The article is written by Communications Officer, Department of Food Science (FOOD), University of Copenhagen, Lene Hundborg Koss.

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