Does ‘Limburgse’ wine taste different when you actually drink it in a vineyard in Limburg? Does being there add value to the story about the wine? What influence does the environment have on remembering the taste and experience? Which associations emerge? What does the consumer actually think is important? The research centre Future of Food at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences is investigating these kinds of questions using modern technologies that allow test subjects to be 'immersed' in an experience. “This can provide a wealth of data that will help us innovate in the food industry a sustainable way,” says Dr. Danny Han, who was officially inaugurated as professor on 7 April.
Danny Han explains the ambitions and plans of his research centre: “The research centre Future of Food focusses mainly on innovation in the food and hospitality industry. In this way, we continue to build on the foundation and tradition of Hotel School Management School Maastricht. Our students and teacher-researchers are engaged in research on how we can consume and produce food more sustainably. We are, as it were, a testing ground for sustainable innovation. The research group uses technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and 3D food printers.”
“No fewer than twelve of the United Nations' seventeen Sustainable Development Goals have to do with food: from health to waste, poverty and the production process. The future of food is a current theme to which we want to contribute.” Two lines of research have been formulated. “The first, 'Sustainable Food Experience Innovation', is concerned with the question of how certain interventions stimulate consumers to make the most healthy and sustainable choice. Because that is the paradox of our time,” says Danny Han. “Healthy food is available in abundance, yet we do not always choose what is good for ourselves, our environment and/or society. How did that happen? There is certainly no shortage of initiatives to make consumers more aware. However, the message is sometimes confusing. Moreover, the right choice is often associated with 'I have to give up something' or 'less tasty'. We want to design scenarios, prototypes and narratives, in co-creation with partners and consumers, in which the best choice leads to the best experience. Perhaps more adventurous, more authentic or tastier. And therefore also more sustainable.”
“In our research we make extensive use of AR, such as the MS HoloLens 2, and VR. The use of these modern technologies offers great advantages. First, a push of a button is enough to create a totally different reality: a vineyard in France or Limburg, Times Square in New York or even a fantasy environment. A second advantage is that these technologies allow us to conduct research in a controlled and stable setting. That is unique in the gastronomy and hospitality sector, where it is difficult to recreate a 'real' environment the same way every time. In other words, ‘immersion technologies’ such as AR and VR provide more reliable data.”
What can the food industry do with this? “The research results provide insight into what drives the customer, among other things. Take a restaurant as an example. Based on research results, the manager knows which items on the menu he can promote via certain messages and channels in order to stimulate the consumer to make a choice. This will enable him to better predict whether the customer chooses A or B, adjust his purchasing policy accordingly and keep food waste to a minimum.”
The second line of the research centre Future of Food is 'Food Service Transformation'. “The aim is to help companies implement sustainable changes and trends in their organisation, in the market and throughout the food chain. We will of course use the results from the first line of research. Our intention is to work more closely with partners – for example in a think tank – and to think out-of-the-box together (with students) about issues such as new business models, the use of artificial intelligence and blockchain, and developing a mindset and culture in which companies are open to change. Incidentally, we do not want to limit this cooperation to companies in the food sector, but rather look beyond the boundaries of the sector. To share data, gain new insights, learn from each other and build bridges to shape the future of our food together.”
Text: Lilian Pommé
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