InnoFoodAfrica at the University of Pretoria

Ms Katherine Smith | University of Pretoria

Consumer Insights

Work Package 1 of the InnoFood Africa (IFA) project includes an analysis of local value chains by consumer, market, and business model studies. This involves an examination and exploration of consumer attitudes and dispositions related to food acceptance and health and taste issues in four African countries namely Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya, and South Africa. This work also aims to empower local value chain actors, specifically farmers and food processors by providing advisory services, market and business information, and training for capacity building and networking to actors.

The main objective is to gather and collect consumer insights and to develop business models for the entire food system to empower the chain actors and allow them to implement the solutions which have been developed by this project. The work includes developing a toolbox for consumer sensory testing of products and conducting training to support successful plant-based product innovations in order to create more sustainable food systems.

At the University of Pretoria (UP), WP1 is led by Professor Riëtte De Kock from the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences. Working under Professor De Kock’s supervision Nomzamo Magano, a Ph.D. student, is developing an instrument that will allow us to better understand the factors that influence African consumers’ food choices. The study facilitates the understanding of end-consumers’ preferences for the project’s novel food products and packaging made from climate-resilient food crops.  The insights will inform the introduction of new products to the market.

Food choice questionnaires were initially introduced by Steptoe and Pollard in the United Kingdom during the 1990s. Nomzamo Magano’s study builds on this body of work to develop an instrument relevant to determining the food preferences and choices of African people. The study takes present-day emergent factors which influence the food choices of those across the African continent into consideration, which was not reflected in the questionnaire developed in the British context in the 1990s. The findings so far highlight the strong influence of financial factors on consumer food choices and preferences and suggest that irrespective of income, consumers ultimately want food and food products that they enjoy. The study is in its final stages and will describe the influence of food choice factors on the acceptance of novel food products by consumers, specifically food products that have been made from climate-smart crops.

Nutrition and nutritional status of children

Work package 2 in the InnoFood Africa (IFA) project focuses on improved nutrition and the nutritional status of children under six and child-bearing aged women. Dr. Marinel Hoffman, a senior lecturer at the Department of Consumer and Food Sciences, University of Pretoria (UP) leads this work package. Dr. Hoffman and her team, including Masters students Rodrey Mafodi and Rochelle Van Veijeren, conducted studies focusing on 1) the dietary practices and nutritional status of mothers and their children and 2) South African consumers’ awareness of the South African Pediatric Food Based Dietary Guidelines. The studies were conducted in one rural and one urban city in the Free State and one public health facility in Gauteng.

The first phase of this work included a food consumption survey to develop an understanding of the foods that mothers in South Africa consume and feed their children. The consumption survey was followed by the study focusing on the awareness and understanding of the South African Pediatric Food-Based Dietary Guidelines (SAPFBDG).

Rodri Mafodi’s study explores the food consumption of mothers and their children and aims to determine if there is a relationship between the nutritional status of mothers and their children.  This study concluded that the mothers fed their children food items which are not nutrient-dense enough for optimal growth and development.  The study also identified high levels of clinical obesity in mothers associated with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases.

Using data from the food consumption survey, the team used linear programming to investigate cost-effective ways for mothers to combine food products to feed children more nutrient-dense diets.

Rochelle Van Veijeren’s research focuses on consumer awareness to determine consumers’ understanding of the South African Pediatric Food-Based Dietary Guidelines. These guidelines aim to educate caregivers of young children to encourage a healthy diet that supports optimal growth and development. The lack of awareness of the guidelines identified in the study could play a role in contributing to the triple burden of malnutrition in South Africa. This key finding highlights the need for more effective communication between the government and policymakers and consumers. It is recommended that marketing tools using infant feeding-relevant products be used to promote customer awareness.

These studies align with IFA’s primary goal of forming advantageous solutions to the challenges of pediatric feeding within rural and urban areas in South Africa. Dr. Hoffman highlights that consumer financial constraints must be addressed and explained that healthy, nutrient-dense meals do not have to be expensive- “For infants older than one year, an egg a day is a good choice for healthy growth and then we can add freshly grown vegetables such as carrots or green leafy vegetables to contribute to healthy immune and digestive systems”. The research that has been conducted by those involved in WP 2 will allow Dr. Hoffman and her team to provide suggestions to mothers on the foods to feed their children to promote optimal growth and development.

Communication about research findings

The  primary focus of University of Pretoria in this work package is on research dissemination and knowledge translation of the research findings, recommendations, and materials from the other work packages. The aim  is to ensure that the scientific work from the other work packages is accessible and easy for stakeholders and the public to understand. The focus of this work package is to expand the usability of the research and centres around communication, adapting the scientific information, translations, and formatting adaptions such as digital accessibility to promote inclusivity. Most of the work involves interactive processes, to present the scientific findings in a manner that is well-suited to the target audience. This aspect of the project is vital to promote the usability and understanding of research to the people that it impacts the most- the project’s stakeholders.

Professor Shakila Dada from the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (CAAC) at the University of Pretoria (UP), explains that the knowledge translation process starts with research input and concludes with research impacts. Research impact is about the bigger picture and the potential contribution that research makes to the economy, society, environment, or culture beyond its academic value. The work from this work package involves various means to facilitate the impact and real-world benefit of the IFA research for stakeholders including creating animated videos and posters and adapting questionnaires using symbols and pictures to make them easier to understand.

A major focus of this work package’s work is around ensuring the documents are accessible and easy to read for people with lower levels of literacy.  Literacy is defined as the ability to proficiently read, write, and use numbers to function in society. It is a universal skill that allows us to acquire knowledge and understand written text and materials. A person is considered to have low levels of literacy if they read at or below a sixth or seventh-grade level. Low literacy may limit a person’s ability to acquire key information and skills and may cause difficulties in processing and recalling complex information. It is estimated that approximately 750 million adults worldwide have low levels of literacy. In South Africa, as much as 20% of the adult population has low literacy. There are also common mismatches between achieved school grade literacy levels and actual ability to comprehend scientific materials. Many South Africans also speak multiple languages and may not want to receive information in English. A study by Janse van Rensberg in 2020 at local healthcare facilities found that even users who appear conversationally proficient in English show limited comprehension of written and oral educational materials and information. This may be due to the complex nature of the concepts detailed in written education materials. These statistics highlight the importance of making research available in accessible and easy-to-read formats.

The process of adapting information involves four steps. First, scientific language is adapted into Easy English which is readable at an English Grade 4 level. Second, illustrations are included to provide more details to assist stakeholders with lower levels of literacy. Third, scientists are continuously consulted to confirm that the information is correct and accurate. The fourth and final step involves ensuring that the final document is available in an accessible format for those using screen readers.  Visual aids such as images and other forms of pictorial support like symbols are included to ensure that this information can be easily interpreted and understood. The text and visual aids taken together make it easier for people to understand concepts. To ensure that this information is accessible to people with various language backgrounds, work package 6 also translates information into languages such as isiZulu, Sesotho, and Setswana.

Inclusivity underpins this work to make results and findings of the IFA research accessible for all stakeholders including those who speak different languages and with lower literacy levels. Work package 6 also focuses on content creation to post the project’s findings and progress on various media outlets. Platforms include social media platforms, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, in addition to posting content on the InnoFood Africa Project’s website. Those in work package 6 create videos, animations, and posters, as well as write media and blog posts, in addition to translation of relevant information.

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