The steady increase in the global food demand requires alternative sources thus ameliorating the health of both the Earth and of human beings. In January 2018, the European Regulation on novel food (2015/2283) went into effect in all European countries, bringing new foods and ingredients (Regulation EU 2015/2283–Article 3). Among them are terrestrial invertebrates (e.g. insects and earthworms).
Despite a growing interest in terrestrial invertebrates as novel food, Western consumers have to cope with fears and taboos. Consumers’ food choices can be driven not only by a deliberative reasoning but also by a temporary emotion . These different dimensions should be assessed with different measurements: Direct techniques consisting of explicit questions to the subjects are suitable to measure the conscious part of opinions and attitudes; indirect techniques objectively measure the spontaneous part of the emotional reaction. Thus, the analysis of neuropsycho-physiological signals allows for the understanding of the mental processes that occur below the threshold of conscious awareness.
Since information and taste play a guiding role in modifying inclinations and attitudes towards novel food , it is essential to address specific and well targeted communication campaigns. This research aims to investigate possible communication strategies of novel food through labels.
To understand the complexity underlying food choice and novel food attitude, two studies were carried out. In Study 1, the main drivers in the food decision-making process were identified. Based on these results, in Study 2, two different food labels for crackers made with earthworm flour were designed. Applying a neurophysiological approach, we measured participants’ neuropsychophysiological activation and behavioural response while watching food labels. A video on nutritional and ecological issues was shown to consumers to reduce aversion towards earthworms as food.
Study 1 was conducted with 1285 respondents (female = 647) aged between 18 and 29 years: These participants are in charge of shopping or share this responsibility in the household. This specific target composed by young adults has been chosen since they are future consumers and food decision makers. They fulfilled a questionnaire based on the Food Choice Questionnaire Findings  and findings indicate health and sensory dimensions as the major drivers in food choice. Particularly, at the individual item level, the average for “Makes me feel good” and “Keeps me healthy” are the highest, confirming the importance of the hedonic dimension and the attention to health in food choice among consumers. Whereas, “Tastes good” corroborates the relevance of this sense in food consumption.
On the basis of Study 1, for Study 2 two different food labels were created, identical in the design and product name (in Italian the term corresponds to “earthworm flour”), with two different claims. The first claim was referred to the product healthfulness, specifying that it was gluten-free and rich in protea. The second claim described the possibility to enhance the flavor of daily food. Therefore, the two labels were compared in terms of effectiveness in promoting the product. In order to deepen possible differences in terms of communication strategy, a comparison between genders was made. The lettering “earthworm flour” was deliberately designed to produce an unpleasant effect on respondents. Participants in this Study were 44 (females = 24) aged between 19 and 29 years. All participants were experimentally naïve. The sample was split in two groups. For one group, the “earthworm flour” label showed the claim related to the healthfulness of the product, and for the other group, the claim was related to the taste.
As for the experimental procedure, participants conducted the experiment individually, in a quiet room, with constant temperature and lighting. Participants were seated 60 cm away from the computer display of the SMI-RED250 eye movement recording system. Participants also wore the equipment for the recording of neuro-psychophysiological signals (EEG headset and skin conduction sensors) and a 5-point calibration was carried out using SMI iViewX software before starting the recording of eye movements. At the beginning, signals were recorded in a state of relaxation (baseline) to have a benchmark to measure the activation on the basis of the experimental stimuli. After this, participants saw stimuli, that is crackers with different labels and in different conditions. In a first phase, participants tasted the food without any information. Then, the image of the products with the label were shown to the participants and information was provided before the second taste with crackers made with grain flour but labelled as “Made with earthworm flour.” After that, researchers showed participants an informative video on the advantages of alternative and sustainable food. Therefore, participants were asked to taste the crackers again while watching an image of the product with the label. The two products (labelled “earthworm flour”/“grain crackers”) were randomly shown. Moreover, participants were asked to express their feeling toward the seen or tasted crackers, using the Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM) valence scale .
The data of Study 2 supported the effectiveness of the statement about nutritional qualities of the products on male participants, who tend to have a more positive reaction than female participants toward the novel product made with earthworm flour when the label’s claim focuses on nutritional advantages. A significant difference was found between the two communication strategies, as the claim about healthfulness provoked a higher approach to the product, especially for males. A significant effect of the video with the information about the product was found, as it diminished the tendency to avoid the crackers made with earthworm flour.
Overall, the results highlight that communication can strongly influence consumers’ reaction to novel food and suggest that the most effective strategy relies on healthfulness. Moreover, the results indicate that there are important gender differences in food acceptance to be taken into account when planning a communication strategy.
From a methodological point of view, this research highlights the importance of both self-reported measures and neuro-psychophysiological measurements to obtain complete information about consumers’ emotional and cognitive responses.
A future comparison between cultures as variables influencing food choice motives and attitudes would provide a better understanding of the phenomenon. In order to reach more generalizable results, future research should try to replicate the same experiment with different types of meal (e.g., cricket meal) and food products (e.g., pastries), and study in greater depth the effect of the visual elements on the label (e.g., pictures of earthworms/flour). Finally, future research should have a larger sample size, in order to guarantee a higher reliability.
Citation: Zito M, Russo V, Marin LEM (2021) Novel Food-Based Product: Short Review. J Brain Neursci 5: 015.
Copyright: © 2021 Margherita Zito, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.