Why researchers need to study consumer food choice
by Nomzamo Magano
Consumer demand is a major driving force of the food chain. Understanding the factors that motivate food choices is incredibly important, not only to food manufacturers but also to farmers, product developers and governments. Manufacturers and farmers can use this insight to know what, how much and how to produce and package food products to maximise profits and limit food waste. It is also valuable information to government as it informs policies and provides guidance on where to direct resources to optimise public health. Researchers therefore need to study food choice factors, how to measure them and how to pre-empt consumer behaviour in light of the ever-changing macro and microenvironments affecting society. For example, what drives consumers’ food choices during a world pandemic, political unrest, or urbanisation? To what extent do our inherent food choice motives affect what we eat or buy?
Nowadays, consumers are exposed to a lot of information with social media playing a huge role. How people interact with information and how it affects their behaviour when it comes to choosing food needs more understanding. Many people on the African continent have little choice in what they have available or can afford to eat. This has a direct influence on their health and nutrition status. The aim of the InnoFoodAfrica project is to link the dots between available and affordable resources, technological opportunities, and consumer behaviour towards food to improve livelihoods.
A challenging example is currently at play where, due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the world’s wheat supply is severely compromised. This necessitates more focus on the development of suitable food products using alternative grains to reduce our over-reliance on wheat as a staple food. Clear understanding of how consumers in African countries weigh the various value propositions associated with food products, including product sensory properties, is key to predict the success of new product developments. InnoFoodAfrica researchers aim to better understand the factors that motivate consumers to integrate food products made with locally grown and climate-resilient crops into their food baskets. Not only will this ensure a stable and affordable source of nutritious food, but it will help to strengthen the economy by uplifting the efforts of small-scale farmers and small business owners along the value chain.